In a world of daily vlogs and Instagram stories, documenting every second of your life to a camera is the norm now. But Sam Klemke was way ahead of the curve.
The caricature artist obsessively documented his life from 1976 until 2011, filming roundups at the end of each year, capturing his changing life and appearance as the years went by.
The montage of footage from the end of each year was made by Klemke into a reverse time-lapse, and first went viral in 2011. A whole other ten years on, and Reddit has once more discovered it. After being shared yesterday, June 20, the post has gained over 32,000 votes.
“Nostalgia has always been my drug of choice. It’s a narcotic. All my life I’ve been nostalgic for times way before my own time. New York City in the 1950s, San Francisco in the 60s, Hollywood in the 1930s. And it’s true, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be,” said Klemke in a later video.
Little did Klemke know that in 2021, nostalgia would be at arguably an all-time high, with kids online already obsessed with Y2K, and even nostalgic for 2013. What he did seemingly predict however is our obsession with documenting our lives to a lens.
Unlike Instagram, Klemke didn’t present an overly-polished version of his life to the camera, instead it appears relatively mundane, warts-and-all to an extreme. Although the reverse-montage showed only moments from each year, and his mission began as only that, his videos transformed over the years into diary-style clips, recording whenever he felt like it.
“I think the difference between me and the young kids who are talking on their selfies is most of them are taking their pictures going, ‘I’m so happy, aren’t things great, I’m with my friends,” Klemke told The Guardian in 2015.
“I’ve spent a lot of my time alone, as you might have been able to tell by the film. Suddenly it’d be late at night, in my van sleeping or in my hotel, and I just felt like conversing with someone. I’d have had all these little, short, five-minute relationships with people throughout the day. I really wanted a full-on conversation and, uh oh, look who it is: my camera. I didn’t really think of it as confession, at least consciously. I think it was just sharing.”
It was the 2011 video Reddit has since rediscovered that actually inspired a 2015 documentary using Klemke’s decades of footage. Sam Klemke’s Time Machine was created by Matthew Bate and premiered at Sundance, covering moments as big as John Lennon’s assassination and finding out about 9/11 to the little things—his weight gain and weight loss, failed relationships and even his use of sex workers.
It may be a whole ten years since it first went viral, but its impact is just as strong this time around, with Reddit users praising the video online.
“Wow, so surreal to condense that much of your life into the film. Well done to him and his life,” wrote one user.
“I watched this video the first time it came out in 2011 and I decided then to do the same so I started filming myself on my birthday every year until I stopped in 2015 because my life kept going to s**t. It was depressing and silly to do any sort of documenting of my life,” added another user, gaining responses of encouragement to try it again. “Even that man had depressing years,” noted one.
“Am I the only one who found this frightening? Life moves seriously fast,” wrote one user, echoing the thoughts of Klemke himself. In 2015, Klemke similarly told The Guardian: “I wanted a record like that of my life. That’s what really was the impetus for me. I knew that my youth was fleeting. As a young person I was different to most kids because I was very aware of how fast life was going.”
Newsweek has contacted Sam Klemke for comment.