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Photographer's #younglove project finds affection, opens hearts everywhere

For more than a year, Julia Xanthos went looking for love and found it, repeatedly. So the New York photographer did what came naturally to her: She took pictures of it.

Xanthos' Instragram collection of #younglove photos captures couples lying in the grass, cuddling on park benches, embracing at subway stops and kissing atop skyscrapers.

#younglove #nyc #happyvalentinesday 💕❤️💗💕

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#younglove #nyc

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For the most part, Xanthos said her subjects don’t care about being photographed. Occasionally, they ask what she’s doing — and then immediately embrace her project once it's explained.

“Because who wouldn’t like a picture like that at the beginning of their relationship?” said Xanthos, 36, a photographer and videographer for the New York Daily News.

#younglove #brooklyn

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Xanthos started attaching the hashtag #younglove to her black-and-white snaps, which she usually takes on her iPhone, about a year ago. She found the images in between assignments, on her way home from work, on her weekends or during other moments of down time. The couples in the pictures include gay and straight pairs, working professionals and urban youth.

#younglove #brooklyn

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But Xanthos stresses that her collection is not about the age of the subjects, but the spirit of the affection being captured.

“You should keep love ‘young’ at all times, right? Young and light,” she said. “Even for a couple who have been together for a long time, I’m not saying they should live in the past, but why not remember the innocence and the sweetness of what it was like in the beginning.”

#younglove #nyc

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But Xanthos admits she wasn’t always so open about love. It wasn’t long ago she “put up a wall, a big one” after one particular breakup that prompted her to go two years without dating. Eventually, she opened her heart back up, encouraged by the outlook that her #younglove project provided.

“I think it’s also really helped my creativity process,” she said, explaining, “I think a lot of art comes from the heart.”

“When you have a closed heart, it’s really hard to produce anything,” she said. “I think a lot of art work, from the most beautiful things, come from a really sacred place way deep down in your soul.”

#younglove #nyc

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#younglove #nyc

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#younglove #nyc

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Photographing so many intimate moments also helped open Xanthos to romance herself.

Last September, while photographing a friend’s wedding, she met an old acquaintance. The two immediately hit it off after learning about their similar family backgrounds. They got engaged a month later.

“I have never felt such deep love before in my life, and I don’t think I would have been able to allow myself this opportunity of love, if I was so closed off to it and scared,” Xanthos said.

The two are planning a May wedding.

Xanthos estimates she’s posted about 50 photos to the collection and professes she doesn’t have a favorite.

"Each one has such a unique personality," she said.

#younglove #nyc

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But pressed a little harder, she admits she has taken a shine to one #younglove photo – but it’s not one she took. It’s a picture a friend took of her and her fiancé, shortly after the couple met.

“I introduced him to our friends at the beginning of our relationship, and we were dancing and talking to each other. It was such a sweet moment they captured,” she said. “I have it framed on the wall.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter or on Google+.

This article was originally published Mar. 18, 2015 at 4:44 p.m. ET.

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