Seattle Foundation Blog

A Life Behind the Lens

Lisa and John Merrill shine a light on the work of nonprofits with compelling photographs.


December 20, 2018

Lisa and John Merrill are among the lucky few who turned their hobby into a full-time business. As the photographers behind Merrill Images, they work with a broad variety of nonprofit clients and businesses to tell compelling visual stories.

Now through January 10, their work focused on nonprofits is featured in the gallery space at Seattle Foundation with their exhibit, Witness to HOPE. The images showcase the work of 37 nonprofit organizations that are addressing complex societal needs, including Technology Access Foundation, Team Read, BikeWorks and Kindering Center.

“Despite progress on many fronts, the challenges we face as a community and a society are really daunting,” said John about the exhibit title. “And from our perspective, the need for action is greater than ever, as is the need for hope to fuel that action.”

The Merrills say that in this age of social media and websites, moving visuals are more important than ever, because they can cause someone to stop for a moment and think about an organization’s work. 

“Powerful images can generate interest in a nonprofit’s work and compel viewers to take some type of action. That might include learning more about the organization online or at an event, providing financial support or volunteering,” Lisa said. “We strive to create photos that generate an empathetic response in order to make it more likely that people will take that important next step.”

After getting married, the couple took photography classes together and built their skills and portfolio while exploring the Northwest. In 1994, they took a break from their careers, rented out their house and traveled to Africa and Asia, exploring new places and documenting their journey. When they returned, they founded Merrill Images and signed contracts with three stock photography agencies. They also joined Social Venture Partners, where they provided guidance and became board members of nonprofits, leading to their social impact work.

As Seattle Foundation philanthropists, they also invest in causes that support the next generation and a sustainable future.

Lisa is passionate about providing high quality early learning experiences for children so they have the skills and building blocks for a healthy, successful life. She serves on the board of Tiny Trees Preschool, which provides early learning in outdoor classrooms in parks, and has helped tell its story through photographs.

John is committed to addressing the crisis of climate change, and believes that we have a decade to mitigate its worst effects by transitioning to a low-carbon economy. He serves as a member of E8, an investor group that funds clean tech start-ups. He’s also worked on two statewide initiatives to decrease carbon emissions and will continue pushing for a bold carbon pollution reduction policy through the state legislature.

In addition to their work with nonprofits, their business includes photography workshops, corporate imagery, travel photography, family portraits and more. Their images have been featured in national publications including National Geographic Traveler, Outside magazine and Smithsonian.

In addition to helping clients through their skills, they are passing along their knowledge and passion to the next generation through their two college-age children, who are also avid photographers interested in positive social change.

The Witness to HOPE exhibit can be viewed through January 10 at Seattle Foundation, 1601 Fifth Ave., Suite 1900, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or viewed online. You can learn more about the Merrills and their work at Merrill Images.

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Nonprofit Partners

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Climate justiceeducationphilanthropistsArts and Culture

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