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.

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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.) "

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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. "

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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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46 Comments
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.

Matt Odom's picture

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

Bernie's picture

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!!".

DefinitelyNot's picture

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!

Jan 'Archee' Bloch's picture

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

Jacob BenjaminTaylor's picture

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.

Blahblah...Fstoppers... Blahbl's picture

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.

David Silverman's picture

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.

Cock_Lesnar's picture

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

Janik Puttemans's picture

How dare you say something like that!

Blahblah...Fstoppers... Blahbl's picture

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.

Jared Skye's picture

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

Blahblah...Fstoppers... Blahbl's picture

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

Jared Skye's picture

O noes muh mumma

Marin's picture

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

melkouas's picture

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.

kevinfulton's picture

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.

dixichic's picture

"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.

dixichic's picture

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 created...you 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??

Agatha Xaris Villa's picture

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?

Natalie Rumsey's picture

The photoshoot should have been named "Eating Disorder Institution for Supermodels."

Simon's picture

I think anyone that finds inspiration in something as tragic as mental illness needs to get their head examined.

Jr Miller's picture

Hey, next let's see a shoot with skinny models picking cotton on a plantation...just like the good old days of slavery.

Tom Lew's picture

just as long as we call it art

Derek Branscombe's picture

It's been said... but this concept and execution is a gross oversight of the very real mental health issues within our society... on the part of both the photographer and fstoppers. Any sensitive topic, especially one such as mental health which literally destroys lives and families, should only be represented in art if it is with the purpose to express something meaningful or elicit productive conversations. Certainly not for the purposing of glamorizing and stereotyping. The photos are completely emotionless and irresponsible.

Reynardt Badenhorst's picture

Wow, those Highlights are totally blown out! Micro-stock agencies would laugh this off!

Graf Almassy's picture

Next time Amy Lynn should do an "african underfed skinny girls are sexy" themed fashion photoshoot with heroin syringes. Those things are so SEXY too!

EnticingHavoc's picture

Makes me sad to see a 24 year old female photographer taking pleasure in shooting emaciated young women. I would have expected to see a little bit more understanding on her side that this is the dark side of photography and should not be further promoted. Yikes.

Mark Guerre's picture

Personally, I think one of two things should of happened here. 1. down play the inspiration or 2. down play the 'high fashion' aspect - By combining the two it undermines the importance of dealing with mental health issues in an informed and compassionate manor.

I think bringing mental health issues to the forefront of any industry is important. If each photo dealt with issues mental health patients deem important then maybe it could've achieved its goal, of being respectful, informative and tasteful.

You've got to handle such issues, particularly in fashion shoots, with understanding, compassion, research, intelligence and use that to inform the viewer. However I think these photos are stereotypical and contrived which are detrimental and reductive to the subject matter.

White room - check
straight jacket - check
wheel chair - check
hands at the window - check

Skill wise, yes she's got it. She can use lights well, build sets, command models, etc.... But i think it misses the mark.

Dana Barratt's picture

I'm a mental health professional, and I do not find this fashion shoot offensive, but rather embarrassingly ignorant on the part of the 24-year old girl.

To me, the issue is that she appears to not be intentionally and directly insulting people with mental health concerns, instead she is unintentionally and indirectly insulting them.

It is quite revealing that this girl has a high degree of skill and knowledge in her area of expertise, yet is so shockingly ignorant of her topic of choice (Berserk: Mental Institution Themed High-Fashion Photoshoot). To me, the ethical issue is that it is perfectly fine to not know about a subject matter and do photo shoots, but when you do photo shoots with a theme or topic in which you are completely and utterly ignorant, (potential interpretations, potential insulting etc), and it is reasonably interpreted as being negative, you either look like you intentionally exploited/insulted your subjects at worst, or you look like a naive amateur at best. Put down the camera, and learn about your topic first. Or not, whatever.

David Vaughn's picture

Not knowing and not caring are two different things. She could have very well known what she was doing. I cannot assume ignorance just from these few images. It might be apathy and not so much ignorance.

Although one side of me is saying "this is insulting," another side of me is wanting to play devil's advocate and I can't deny its whispering in my ear that these images aren't bad at all.

Does that make me a bad person - someone who lacks empathy and compassion? Probably,

However, I will say my piece regardless. These images exploit no one and there are no insulted subjects. This is a created world. It does not exist outside of these images. It is constructed out of the mind of the makeup artists, art director, and photographer.

These are not poking fun at any particular event. These are not joking about Hiroshima or the Holocaust. They are vague and generalized so as to not be directly tied to reality.

That's my (presumably appalling) opinion of it...

Jim Cunningham's picture

derivative emo crap...

paultreacy's picture

This is grossly offensive, insensitive and stupid. Amy Lynn, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. This is the kind of thing that can give photographers a bad name. You need to grow up.

I have never criticised a photographer online before but this is dreadful.

Gordon Lafleur's picture

This is in the worst possible taste.

Lorenzo P's picture

Amazingggggggg!!!!!

Will Mydell's picture

I think the shots are dope.
On another note... I'd love to see what's on everyone's (everyone meaning people upset about this shoot) television and dvd collection. Because Hollywood does this everyday, only on film. So I guess that's offensive also. What makes this different from tv drama, or movies, or photo manipulations you see all the time on DeviantArt or Flickr or Behance? In this world people pick and choose what they decide to be sensitive about and what they choose to support. What look good to some looks bad to others, and vice versa. That's just life. Deal with it. I personally don't see the need for name calling, but people are bold and tough on the internet, you can call someone anything in the book but it won't change anything, all it's gonna do is hender that person's growth process in their craft. And fellow photographers (and non-photographers) that do the most talking don't even have portfolios to match the work of the artist their bashing. Welcome to the internet.