Berserk: Mental Institution Themed High-Fashion Photoshoot

Amy Lynn is a 24 year old photographer from Nebraska who wanted to do an institutionalized themed shoot for a long time. Right before Halloween, she decided to finally make it happen by heading to local thrift shops in search of the right materials to match her vision. The BTS video captures the whole process and the final results are more than awesome.


FS: What inspired you to do this photoshoot?

Amy: "I'd come up with the idea a while back to do a mental institution/insane asylum fashion shoot and figured October would be the perfect time to shoot in and release it for Halloween. Over the past year I kind of got caught up in the daily grind of taking on jobs I wasn't passionate about or that didn't give me the creative freedom to do my art and experiment just to pay the bills (every artists eternal struggle) and I really wanted to push myself to create again.

(Random fact: when I heard the song Berzerk by Eminem, his Marshall Mathers comeback song, I was inspired to name this shoot after it, as I was using this shoot as sort of my comeback to shooting my art again. Plus the word berserk was totally perfect for it.) "


FS: Can you share some of the technical information on how you created that feel and look of asylum?

Amy: "I was inspired by the three attached images I'd found on Google to create a harsher lighting effect that would give the feel of light coming in from barred windows. So I researched info on Cookies (short for Cucoloris), and cut a cookie out of some basic black foam board to imitate the pattern of barred windows, and put that between the key light and the subject. It was my first time using a cookie, but have used them twice since. They can really add an awesome effect to an image, make a light source look more natural, or give a set the effect that you are shooting in an entire room with windows instead of just a two walled set, or a seamless backdrop. Plus the pattern possibilities are endless.

I made the set out of 4 cheap particle boards, I covered in quilt batting and white sheets, and used a staple gun to attach the covering and to create the padded wall look. All the props and clothing I found at thrift stores and vintage shops around town. "


Photography: Amy Lynn
Assistant / BTS Videographer: Daniel Smith
Hair: Kristen Rozmiarek of Kontempo
Make Up: AJ Torres
Models: Nicole Keimig and Karah Linn

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Adam T's picture

I like the photos, but not sure if it speaks mental illness. I think this is one of those times I would have went a little on the dark side. Maybe show a girl with healed over cuts or soft strapped to a chair or bed.

Food for thought-

Antonio Carrasco's picture

Very cool. Concept and execution both excellent.

Matthew Odom's picture

*Boom* This is the bomb...As a Human Services major this has really sparked some cool concepts for me to do!

As someone who works in mental health, and in an "institution," I've never understood why this is supposed to look appealing and still used--with alarming frequency--as a shoot concept. I think if Amy knew someone in one of these facilities, or had visited one, this wouldn't be the direction she'd want to go with this idea--at least I hope she wouldn't still want to go this direction. The people--remember that they have names and histories and families--who need these facilities and services deserve better than to be stigmatized like this. There is certainly nothing "glamorous" or "high fashion" about mental health facilities or services.

Jason Ranalli's picture

It is just art though. I don't think anybody is looking at this then saying, "take me to the nearest hospital!!".

Bikini and fashion shoots are just art too, but you see little girls pressured into being "thin" to be socially accepted. I see your point.

David Vaughn's picture

But being thin can have an up-side if you are a healthy thin. "Thin" isn't necessarily a completely negative thing.

However, mental illness is wholly debilitating. Nobody WANTS to be mentally ill just on the basis that it is unhealthy from every perspective. Girls are pressured to be thin, because just being thin doesn't disrupt your life unless you go TOO far with it.

Pressure from advertising to be thin can open the door to mental illness, but they are not one an the same, so I think it's unfair to compare the two.

My counterpoint would be that Hollywood and video games glamorize violence and killing, however no consistent link has been found between media violence and violent behavior in children.

My personal opinion is that upon first glance, I thought they were in poor taste, and they kind of are when given the context of the concept (mental illness is totally, like, trivial and not that bad you guys), however, as images, they are quite beautiful, especially the one of the girl sitting on the ground.

Let the downvoting and more-educated-arguments-than-mine commence!

I understand the concept but let's be frank.. to those who ever been in mental hospital and saw the conditions people are at or the way they look like.. it goes beyond someone's imagination.. it's sad look.. there is no make up.. there is sometimes over make up to comfort yourself in mirror if nurses let you... don't want to brag what's wrong or right but would advice anyone to visit places like this in real life.. it might not look like one flew over the cuckoo's nest which was direct showcase of what was actually happening in my country (Forman is from Czechoslovakia and we had the identical conditions until late 90's) but I think if the models were actual patients and Amy would create a fantasy story for them.. I would love tot see that rather than someone pretending being patient

Having worked in a mental health field and growing up with parents in the field I have a pretty good grasp of it. I have seen some darker shoots that play with the idea in a very surreal, understanding way. These photos are nice but they do not really do it any justice.

The fascination is the same fasciation everyone has with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and other books of the sort.

One part I do respond to with images in the "institution" category is that for many people it is a fine line between working in a mental hospital and being in one. We all have demons and we all have struggles and some require help when they break us down. There is something to be said about an artist trying to capture the essence of that feeling or those feelings. The void, the emptiness, the tragedy, etc. Not saying this editorial does it justice but there ares that could pull it off.

Tom Lew's picture

I'm usually not the one to say this.. but this is incredibly offensive to people with family members and friends suffering from mental illness. It'd be the same thing as doing a photo shoot with the theme of chemo therapy patient. Different illness, still a hospital.

Don't give them ideas, Tom.

Adam T's picture

Oh that is a good idea, I'll call it "Chemo Devas.
I could probably pitch it to a ladies razor company.

This is about as sick as an Auschwitz themed photo shoot. It harkens to the not too distant past when we incarcerated the mentally ill instead of treating them in a humane manner. Nothing cool or artistic about this.

look at all these damn morons getting offended. Its like you can't even do anything anymore without people getting offended.

How dare you say something like that!

Look at all these retards talking on the internet it's like you can't even throw a poorly conceived stick without seeing them come out in droves defending an intellectual fallacy they will never have the ability to fully understand.

arnel dela gente's picture

you can't please each and every dumb people in the world. :D

Adam T's picture

Yeah how about it, I think because of peoples reaction I'm going to do a portrait series on the joys of teenage disorders just for shock.

I don't see anything offensive here... I see something banal and uninteresting but I don't see anything offensive. They're just photos.

Like how your mom's just a whore. She's not inherently offensive, just very slutty.

O noes muh mumma

High-Fashion Photoshoot w/ "clothes from thrift store" ... lol

I'm a young adult who deals with mental illness and loves photography, but don't like this. I love taking portraits and creating conceptual art, but this is too much. It would be an amazing shoot without those white padded walls and overall body language.

Everything is executed very well and all, but the concept is a little............irresponsible. If there were social commentaries or an artistic statement attached to this then maybe, but from what I've read there is none. It was getting close to Halloween and she was inspired by a song she likes. Not saying she's a bad person, cuz we all have those moments, but perhaps a bit more sensitivity when dealing with VERY SENSITIVE SUBJECT would be appropriate for future shoots.

"Well, its just art"..that is what I'm reading from some of you insensitive folks. It's bad art, that's what it is. Its Insensitive art meant to desensitize people into accepting grim changes in our society. I will not bend to this crap change in our society. To true artists everywhere 'PLEASE' keep being passionate and empathetic in your art, not callous and empty.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Wow...just wow. The level of discourse on this forum and on the internet in general has reached an all time low by reading these comments here.

I'm assuming I'm one of the ones you were referencing by your quotes so I'll give my own 2 cents. The people who create art ABOVE ALL should be defending this...not taking pot-shots at the creator and assuming she had ill-intent through her creative process.

Do you really think the creator was intending to desensitize people into accepting "grim changes"?? If so, you should be in the asylum...not the models shown here.

There is a lack of empathy that is disturbing in this person's work. That you condone it is ever more disturbing and proves that our society is changing for the worse. Sad.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Who are you to judge ANYONE here? You and a few others need to get off your high horse.

Again, this is someone's art that they have no idea what their intent was so do not pretend that you do. Why are they obligated to show the harsh reality of life in a mental institution? Who are you to mandate that?

Is everyone that shows a beautiful shot of NYC obligated to show the harsh realities of lower-income life? Are they insensitive to those communities if they do not portray the city in that way? Where would you ever draw the line and why would you draw that line here?

Seriously....some of you holier-than-thou types need to stop criticizing the work of others because you wrongly perceive their intent to be bad.

Gregory L'Esperance's picture

Who in their right mind would lock up such hot little playthings??

The models leg on the last batch of photos - the one where she's standing straight... her leg appears atrophied. That was the only time I was truly freaked out. The concept was "Berserk"? Where is it?

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