What Happens When Internet Communities Come Together IRL

Photos and captions by Amy Lombard.
In 2016, it’s the rare millennial who doesn’t have an internet community or two. Amy Lombard has roughly 60.

The 26-year-old photographer has spent three years documenting internet meetups across the United States for her photo series Connected, now out as a book. The meetups are astonishingly varied — Lombard has photographed Harry Potter fandoms, lesbian “cougars 'n' cubs,” barefoot communities, even ghost hunters.

“A lot of times, going into these scenarios… It’s kind of like going on a blind date, in a way,” she told Refinery29 by phone.

She started documenting meetups after photographing a pug-enthusiast pool party on New York City’s Staten Island. Though she went to the party because of an interest in documenting the relationships between people and animals, she said that she left the event more interested in how the attendees had used the internet to find each other.

“I was thinking about the current state of community, and our thoughts of how the internet is pulling people apart,” she said. “I can’t imagine another time in history where people would be able to find each other in that kind of way.”

She estimates that she has gone to between 80 and 100 meetups, where attendance can range in size from just a few people to several dozen, and include both devotees and those merely trying something new.

"People come to these different groups for a few different reasons,” Lombard said. “I met one girl at the Harry Potter meetup that — none of her friends liked Harry Potter, so she decided to come to this group. Some people, they’re new to the city. People come to it for all different sorts of reasons.” She said that people formed lasting connections, friendships — even marriages.

Lombard contrasts it with the way that internet relationships were seen when she was younger, in what she called the You’ve Got Mail era, when online friendships happened but didn’t make it to the IRL stage. “Now this is becoming just a normalized part of our society,” she said, adding that, as something of an indoor kid, the internet had a special place in her life. “I [took to] the internet because I felt like I couldn’t be myself in real life, I couldn’t have these connections, or I couldn’t find these people to connect with.” Now, she thinks, it’s come full circle.

“Just seeing people come together in this sort of way is pretty fascinating and extraordinary,” Lombard said.

Ahead, see the varied and colorful communities of the internet, as they are beyond the screen.

Editor's note: This project was made with support from the VSCO Artist Initiative, and designed by Elysia Berman.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the photo series. Refinery29 regrets the error.