Layers Of Emotion

Each year, I choose one word to guide me through the year. It’s a self-reflective practice I began five years ago, inspired by Ali Edwards and her "One Little Word" blog posts ( Unlike a resolution, my one-word intention can’t be broken. Much like a compass, it guides me, particularly when I’m feeling stuck or uncertain. I don’t put any expectations around the word or what it might bring, but I do find that experiences throughout the year tend to unfold in accord with it.

The selection of my word has typically been a mind-bending process. It starts as a collection of words in mid-December. Then I squeeze it down to a handful. I roll the words around, hold each one up to the light, extrovert a subset with my soul sisters, and eventually land on one on 1/1. In past years, I’ve chosen words such as seek, stretch and joy. This year’s selection—love—was remarkably easy. There were no contenders. I’m not sure why, but this four-letter sequence appeared repeatedly in my physical world and sort of surrendered itself.

But what does love look like beyond the four-letter composition? We can feel it, but is it possible to visually represent its complexity and intensity in a two-dimensional image? Can one evoke the feeling of it in a photograph without actually seeing it? I’m not certain, but I’ll be exploring these questions in a series of images this year.

This first image is a composite of four images—disparate scenes from my past. To simplify the subjects, I used the VSCO Cam app to convert each photograph to black-and-white. I used the Blender app to blend images 1 and 2 together. Then I opened the resulting blended image and blended it with image 3. I repeated this process to blend in image 4, making minor zoom and positioning adjustments to create the illusion of my interlocking hands.

Next, I opened the blended image in the Mextures app and added a Light Leak filter, adjusting the saturation and blend mode to add a subtle color palette. Finally, I opened the image in VSCO Cam and increased the temperature of the color palette, image contrast and sharpness.

When you feel the urge to create, but lack subject matter that interests you in the moment, scan your iPhone Camera Roll for elements that might portray the current state of your heart or mind. Can you blend moments of your past to evoke a feeling in the present?

Stephanie Calabrese ( is an award-winning documentary photographer and author of the best-selling The Art of iPhoneography: A Guide to Mobile Creativity, 2nd Edition and Lens on Life: Documenting Your World Through Photography.

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