To help heal her social anxiety, photographer Monica Lazar did something she never expected – she put herself front and center.
The Bucharest, Romania-based Lazar, created a series of self-portraits as a way to channel the crippling condition she had dealt with since childhood.
“As a kid, I chose to play alone rather than spend time with other children. I was always very self-conscious, permanently asking myself what others think about me,” Lazar, 31, tells PEOPLE. “I knew I was clever. I knew my abilities were interesting, still, I never felt like it was enough to have the courage to make my voice worth listening.”
Lazar said her anxiety only worsened as an adult, explaining that she “lost many opportunities” because of it. Then at age, 25, she discovered photography, and began taking portraits, which would lead to a life-changing moment.
“One day I found a beautiful vintage dress in a second-hand shop. The next day I was supposed to travel to a place with beautiful landscapes, and it would have been a great opportunity to shoot some portraits. I had no one else to use as a model, so I decided to get dressed and to put myself in front of the camera,” she says. “That felt really difficult, but the need to create something was more powerful than my fear…self-portraiture became both an exercise of creativity and an exercise of self-exposure.”
Lazar, who also holds a degree in Psychology and Neurobiology, has since decided to channel her anxiety into her work, which includes ethereal images of herself out in nature.
“Every image is an emotion I experienced, a wish, or a fear I’m dealing with,” she explains. “Self-portraits became that other dimension I can live in. The purpose of my pictures is not to illustrate what anxiety looks and feels like. There is nothing surreal and magic in anxiety. They are more a representation of what I wish to be one day, brave, free, peaceful.”
And, says Lazar, the experience – and encouragement – has been uplifting.
“Self-portraiture is a form of exposing myself to what I fear the most, interacting with people,” Lazar says. “I consider myself lucky to have received amazing positive reactions to my work. I don’t know how this exercise would have ended if the feedback was negative.”
As for her message, it’s all about courage. She says: “The courage to make something beautiful out of something painful. The courage to show what is inside of every one of us. The courage to let others know that we are vulnerable. I wish that my work reminds others that we can never know for sure what’s behind what we see. This is exactly why we should be kind and compassionate.”