Batman takes moody road trip across Texas

French photographer Remi Noel traversed the Lone Star State capturing archetypal American images that often feature his only traveling companion, a tiny Batman figurine.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
3 min read

Batman takes in the scenery in New Braunfels, Texas. Remi Noel
Batman, caught in a more vulnerable moment. Remi Noel

You might assume the superhero life to be one of nonstop glamour -- humanity-saving heroism, public adoration, the kind of designer spandex only celebrities can afford. But Remi Noel's photos reveal another side of the superhuman existence. Or another side of Batman's at least.

In Noel's photos, a tiny plastic Batman figurine sleeps alone in a seedy motel and visits places that seem far too mundane for a superhero's skill and stature -- a laundromat or public restroom, for instance.

The French photographer told Crave that the star of his black-and-white photos -- "a toy that I stole from my son one day when I was cleaning his room" -- was his sole companion as he traversed Texas by car, photographing its landscape over the course of four trips.

"I did a photo, then two, then three, and it became a series," Noel said. "Indeed, since I go to the United States by myself, I take Batman with me to feel less alone. And I take him out; I set him up in scenarios."

The scenarios generally involve such symbols of American mythology as rundown motels, neon signs, swimming pools, desert expanses, and the highways that crisscross them -- all points of fascination for the Paris-based ad agency creative director with an attraction to the American West.

"Noel has been obsessed with the 'America' of Jack Kerouac, Edward Hopper, and Robert Frank since his early school years," wrote PoetryWanted, the publisher that turned his Texas shots into a collection presented as a foldable map. "And Texas, with its endless highways and fleabag hotels, is the perfect setting for Noel's playfully poetic tableaux."

The photos are the first in "This is not a Map," a series of foldable photographic maps -- "perfectly useless maps that celebrate the encounter of a photographer and a place," PoetryWanted said.

Batman may look alone in many of the shots, but he's never far from his traveling companion, Noel. Remi Noel

Upcoming maps in the series, taken by other photographers, depict Las Vegas, Scotland, and Japan. The maps sell for 16 euros (about $22).

In the more melancholy of Noel's 34 Texas photos, Batman stares out at a moody, gray seascape or stands alone on a street corner, his head seen from behind. In one of the more amusing shots, he's the guy looking smaller than life, hiding behind a curtain of toilet paper hanging from a dispenser.

Even though Batman is often captured alone in his environment and Noel always travels to the United States by himself, the photographer said he didn't set out to make a statement about solitude. "It is unconsciously that I'm presenting a 'lonely Batman,'" he told Crave. "And, in fact, he is not since he is traveling with me."

It's tempting to wonder whether Batman says something particular about superheroism or American culture that Spider-Man, Superman, or Iron Man wouldn't, but Noel said his choice of Caped Crusader as subject was a purely accidental result of his son's toy collection. The photographer said, as it turns out, that Batman is "very photogenic. And as I'm shooting in black and white, his presence is very strong in the image."

This isn't the first time superheroes have made for dramatic imagery. Agan Harahap, a professional photographer and avowed history buff, photoshops superheroes (and a few villains) into famous World War II photos -- to strange and sometimes ironic effect. And artist Khoa Ho visualizes superheroes' difficult upbringings in an inspiring set of black-and-white silhouettes called "Superheroes - Past/Present.

Batman goes mano a mano in Waco, Texas. Remi Noel

(Via Design Taxi)