It was a normal Tuesday morning in April, 2015, and I was starting my day just like I always do: catching up on email and glancing at the day’s headlines. On the front page of CNN’s website was a photo of the world’s only surviving male northern white rhino and the rangers who stand guard 24 hours a day to protect him from poachers. The image was heartbreaking—a symbol of mankind’s power to both destroy and save.
In that moment, everything changed for me. I would say I was an animal lover privately and a wedding photographer professionally, but amidst mood boards and engagement shoot edits, it suddenly became painfully clear to me that my generation may be the one that sees so many majestic species simply vanish from the wild. These creatures might someday only exist in books and stories. I realized that I must render these animals my loyalty, my soul and my talents in the only way I know how.
Render Loyalty emerged fully formed in my mind, a fine-art photography company dedicated to supporting wildlife conservancies and the animals they protect. When I shared this idea with my husband, Chad, he was ready to jump in with me, and we have embarked on a challenging, wild journey to make conservation our life’s work.
Last year, we traveled to Kenya to partner with two amazing wildlife non-profits, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and experienced their priceless efforts to ensure the survival of the planet’s most vulnerable species. From up-close encounters with baby elephants to silent observation of adolescent lions, Chad and I had the opportunity to observe creatures we’d only seen in pictures.
I documented our journey on film with my Contax 645 medium-format camera, and 80mm f/2.0 and 350mm f/4 lenses, to capture a range of subjects. While digital has its benefits, I prefer film for its depth and resonance. The medium-format Ilford 400 black-and-white film that I used was the perfect choice, resulting in soul-stirring photographs that capture the power of the animals. Richard Photo Lab helps us create one-of-a-kind prints using Hahnemühle’s fine-art cotton Photo Rag paper, which will last for decades.
Each of the photos sold on the Render Loyalty site contributes directly to the protection of threatened species; 20 percent of the retail price of each piece and 60 percent of the first edition of our largest, 40 x 52-inch pieces go to the conservancy where the image was captured. So far this year, we have generated over $20,000 in contributions, with a goal to raise over $100,000 annually.
While some of us may never have the chance to go to Africa or other distant places and see these threatened species ourselves, photography gives us a chance to intimately experience them. I hope to instill that emotional connection within the viewer. In today’s political climate, when the environment seems to be, tragically, the last priority, it’s up to us to put our talents and passions to work on behalf of the planet and its creatures.
KT Merry is a fine-art destination wedding photographer who was named a PDN 20 Rising Star in 2011. She also shoots fashion editorials and fine-art series and has been featured in publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings and Harper’s BAZAAR.