Charlie Chaplin Made a Short Film About Photobombing in 1914


“Photobombing” might feel like a uniquely modern phenomenon—the word itself only started appearing as a search term online around 2009, and was added to the Collins English Dictionary (as the “word of the year,” no less) in 2014. But the phenomenon itself has been around much longer. 

In fact, in 1914, a then-24-year-old Charlie Chaplin made an entire short film on the subject. Kid Auto Races at Venice was filmed in the style of an early newsreel, and covers a real children's soap box derby held in Los Angeles' Venice neighborhood. In the film, Chaplin shows up to the race as a spectator. At some point, he becomes aware of the news cameras filming the event, and from that point on, dedicates himself to making it into all of their shots. 

In order to make the short, Chaplin and his crew simply showed up at the event and began shooting, using the race and its spectators as a backdrop. Structurally, the film is similar to the many photobombing videos that show up on YouTube today. There isn’t really a plot—it’s all about Chaplin trying to get on camera, and being periodically shooed away (at one point by a real policeman, unaware that Chaplin was making a movie).

The film is fascinating for a few reasons: first, it’s possibly the first work to satirize people’s desire to be on camera. It's also a fascinating mix of improvisational fiction and documentary, a quick glimpse into the Los Angeles of 1914. And perhaps most importantly, it’s the first film released in which Chaplin appears as his iconic “Little Tramp,” a character he would continue to play for over two decades.