Agathe Rousselle, I Ditched Class and I Took a Bath

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Ceiba Editions (here). Softcover, 48 pages, with 35 color and black and white photographs. Includes hand drawn captions by the artist. In an edition of 150 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Agathe Rousselle is a Paris-based artist who wears many hats. In addition to being a photographer and running Peach (here), a zine produced by a collective of female artists, she is a model, an actress, and has also recently launched her own clothing brand. Her excessive creative energy and personal intensity are clearly visible through her many artistic pursuits.

In 2016, Rousselle was going through an emotionally rough period in her life, and in search of a change of environment, decided to escape Paris and bought a ticket to San Francisco, a city (and a country) where she never been before. The raw, diaristic results from Rousselle’s trip were recently published in a photobook with the defiant title I Ditched Class and I Took a Bath.

I Ditched Class and I Took a Bath is a softcover book with loose pages. It is sealed with a golden title stripe which must be broken to open it – a rather intimate gesture, like accessing a secret. The photograph on the cover captures a young woman, her bright red lips slightly open as she applies mascara while crossing the street; she holds a cigarette and perhaps a passport in her left hand. The picture captures the chaotic energy and lightness of youth, where the sense of adventure mixes with some level of awkwardness. It hints at the idea of stepping out of one’s life, literally crossing (in this case) into a transitory space where the usual rules are relaxed.

During the day, Rousselle would take long walks around San Francisco and its surroundings with her Olympus 35mm film camera. There are shots of the streets, buildings, details as well as interiors of apartments and clubs/bars, her casual flashlit aesthetic offering an echo of the immediacy of Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, and early Ryan McGinley. One the images depicts a venue with pink and red furniture and some extensive Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling – a few girls appear chatting at one of the tables, at an otherwise empty place.

At night, Rousselle would go out, submerging herself into a different layer of San Francisco, and her nocturnal encounters are prominently featured in the book. A young girl is caught with her eyes closed as she chomps popcorn from a paper bag. This picture is paired with an image of a guy with drumsticks sitting at the kit, his head a bit down and his hair tumbling down to cover his face. At first, it seems like he is caught in action, yet his foot is kicked out on a drum set, so he is probably just fooling around. These people, often tipsy and happy by the end of the night, seem genuine and alive. A full spread image in the middle of the book shows a girl in an apartment; she wears a white shirt and panties, and her messy hair is all over her face as she sticks out her tongue as she looks into the camera. The theatrical dynamic of her saucy pose goes perfectly with a piece of paper on the wall boasting “I got a Big Dick & a lot of Friends”.

Rousselle’s thoughts appear as handwritten notes throughout the book, revealing her vulnerability and the swirl of emotions related to her recent break-up. The text is often turned around and some words are crossed out, making the thoughts expressed that much more immediate and urgent. One of them reads, “I’m just walking / walking / walking / constantly / walking”, another says “You are going to be in my life even if you’re not there”, and later in the book, a third reveals “After almost ten days of struggling with my fear anger and anxiety I feel very good here”. The progression of the book leads toward a kind of negotiated peace, where Rousselle comes to terms with herself and finds a sense of equilibrium.

There are hardly any images typical for San Francisco in this book, no cable cars or Golden Gate Bridge to signal a tourist mentality. Instead, Rousselle’s images fall somewhere between intimate, raw and brutal, mirroring her heightened emotional sensitivity at that time. This jangly, irreverent mood is also reinforced by the construction of the book, which encourages the viewer to move and flip flop the spreads, playing with the narrative and the order.

In the end, I Ditched Class and I Took a Bath feels intimately cathartic. The cover of the book has flaps, and once open, it lays out all the images and texts on one spread, bringing all the elements of the project into a semblance of order. The text written in bigger letter reads “San Francisco took my heart” and continues on the other side to “when I thought I was dead”. The last photograph is a bird’s eye view of the city, a quiet black and white image that makes us think that Rousselle’s escape may have been successful in helping her to find a sliver of release. Perhaps an interlude of carefree openness was just what she needed.

Collector’s POV: Agathe Rousselle does not appear to have gallery representation at this time, so interested collectors should likely follow up directly via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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