Pug Owners and Redheads Unite! Online Groups Meet IRL

No matter how weird or obscure your interest, someone out there loves it as much as you do and is eager to indulge it, dissect it, and celebrate it. Everyone has a clan, and the internet makes it easy to find.

Photographer Amy Lombard celebrates these connections in her delightful book Connected. She attended 80 web-organized meetups across the US, capturing people bonding over parrots, yoyos and their love of J. R. R. Tolkein. “I don’t know what would even be considered weird in the age of the internet,” she says. “It’s a great time to be accepted, no matter your interests.”

Lombard speaks from experience. She was a shy kid who had trouble making friends at school, but found connections came more easily on AOL instant messenger. Websites like Livejournal and Myspace helped her meet people with similar interests IRL, including her roommate. “The internet really helped shape who I am and also helped me break out of my shell,” she says.

It also helped her find quirky subjects. Three years ago, Lombard happened upon a Facebook group for Staten Island pug lovers and attended their pool party. Thirty pug aficionados and the smoosh-faced companions spent the day splashing about and having a grand time, all because of the internet. She’s spent the years trawling Facebook groups and websites like Meetup. She’s joined paranormal enthusiasts stalking ghosts in a busy Soho boutique and enjoyed brunch with “women of a certain age” in Reno who are 45 and older. “Reno is a tough place to make friends,” Lombard says. “So where else are you gonna look but the internet?”

Her photos reveal people bonding over obsessions they might not share with anyone else on a daily basis. “You can really be who you want to be and find your people,” Lombard says, “because they’re just a few clicks away.” Some people are content to indulge once a month, then return to their circle of friends. But for others, the meetups profoundly reorganize their social lives. A few even get married.

Showing up with a Canon 5D Mark III and bright speed lights guaranteed Lombard wouldn’t quite fit in, but she did her best. She kicked off her shoes with the Eastern Massachusetts Barefoot Hikers, feeling mud squish between her toes during a trek through a forest. And she even brought her pomeranian Sasha to a chihuahua picnic in Central Park, though Sasha didn’t appreciate it. “She’s so antisocial and awkward,” Lombard says. Perhaps she needs to go online and meet some friends.

Connected, made in support with VSCO artist initiative, is now available as a photo book.

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