In Focus

Photographer KT Merry of Render Loyalty captures a world of endangered species.

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By Charlie Crespo

KT Merry exists in two drastically different worlds.

In one, beaming brides and genial grooms smile back at her. They pose and laugh and soak in the celebration happening around them. The mood is ebullient.

In the other world, she blinks awake before the sun rises. She meanders through the Kenyan savanna in search of subjects that are much less obliged to have their portraits taken. A herd of elephants wanders past, a lion relaxes in the shade and a giraffe enjoys a late afternoon snack. Quietly moving among them, Merry inches closer with her camera, clicking as she captures stunning black-and-white images of our planet’s vanishing species.

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ANIMAL INSTINCTS: Merry has a special place in her heart for rhinoceros, as reading about the near-extinction of the male northern white rhinoceros inspired her to create Render Loyalty.

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“It’s always been animals first,” Merry says. “As a kid, I wrote plays about endangered species and saving the rainforest. It’s always been my passion before art.”

Growing up, Merry lived in Iwakuni, Japan, while her father was stationed in the military. There, she rode horses, and when her family returned to the United States, she also cared for dogs, cats, ducks and “pretty much anything my parents would let me keep,” the 33-year-old says.

Her other passion—photography—formed in high school. While in a photography class, Merry entered and won a Vocational Industrial Clubs of America state competition and finished as runner-up in the national competition. With the winner’s college plans already set, Merry was presented a full scholarship to the Hallmark Institute of Photography in western Massachusetts. Upon graduating, she worked in fashion photography before starting her own destination wedding photography company.

After nearly 10 years in the wedding business, though, she still hadn’t quite figured out how to merge her two passions. Then, in 2015 she stumbled upon an article about the last male northern white rhinoceros. Suddenly, it all clicked. In that moment, Render Loyalty was born.

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A TEAM EFFORT: Render Loyalty relies on much help both home and abroad, including from KT?Merry’s husband, Chad, middle, who is her partner in the nonprofit.

As a partnership with her husband, Chad, her new project would “combine photography and conservation, and marry them to support organizations that are doing the work on the ground,” Merry says. “I really wanted to do something that goes a step further, where the art directly supports the mission.”

Twice a year, the Aventura-based couple would partner with a conservation organization, photograph animals on its property, learn about its efforts in the community, and then sell Merry’s work to raise money for the organization.

With the concept established, Merry researched and vetted conservation groups before partnering with the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, both located in Kenya. In November, Merry and her husband visited each group, spending time with orphaned elephants at David Sheldrick and on safari in search of elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, zebras and buffaloes at Lewa.

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“Hopefully, Render Loyalty can become a symbol for conservation.” —KT Merry

“For me, photographing animals is kind of like a spiritual experience,” Merry says. “I’ve always felt really calm with them. It’s probably why I seek them out so much.”

Upon returning home, Merry combed through the images and curated gallery shows in New York and Los Angeles. One hundred percent of retail sales from each show’s purchases and 20 percent from online sales went directly to Render Loyalty’s partners.

“Our whole point is just to take two seconds and try to make the world a better place,” she says. “If you are going to buy art for your wall and this is something that speaks to you, why not have art that has some meaning and does some good?”

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In her eyes, Render Loyalty is only getting started. It has earned $15,000 for conservation groups in only its first year. Going forward, she plans to partner with two new organizations each year. In addition, she wants Render Loyalty to become a hub for sharing stories and conservation information to inspire others to get involved.

“We want to take the guesswork out of who you support,” she says. “Hopefully, Render Loyalty can become a symbol for conservation.”

Originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue.