Kent Murray has probably seen more Hillsborough residents and their families dressed in their Sunday best over the last 40 years, than many churches see in that span of time. Seen more tie straightening, hair fussing, and re-application of makeup than any high school prom or wedding. And he’s probably said the word “smile” more than anyone in Orange County.
But now, at the age of 75, Murray is closing the doors for good at Kent Murray Photography in Boone Square, a place that could be an archaeological dig of portraits, framed and unframed.
“I just turned 75 on Jan. 9, and my wife’s been after me for a few years to retire,” Murray said. “I’m still going to do photography and some fine art to sell with an online company called Art Storefronts.”
Murray and his wife are moving to a house in Mebane that will be in the same neighborhood as their daughter, son-in-law, and, most importantly, 4-year-old grandson. The new home, Murray said, has space for him to continue to process portraits on his computer, but he said he will not have an in-home studio.
“I’ll just go into people’s homes, or a park or something like that and continue doing portraits and children’s portraits. I’ll stay in it, but it will be slightly more relaxing when I want to take time out.”
Murray started as an arts education major at Mars Hill University. His interest in photography began when he was working in the darkroom for the school yearbook. He taught at a school for a number of years in the Rocky Mount area before going out to Santa Barbara, California, to the Brooks Institute of Photography.
He then moved back to the area and created a studio space in the den of his home in Efland. When he needed more space, Murray moved to Boone Square and rented an area down the hall from where his business is now, and has bee since 1994.
During that time, Murray’s business has survived the advent of digital cameras and now, cellphone cameras. Even though the quality of phone cameras is quite good, Murray said, there’s still more to taking a photo that holds up and retains texture than just having an expensive phone.
In his 40 years in Hillsborough, Murray said he’s done about 1,400 weddings. The most consistent trend has been family portraits and portraits of children. It’s not uncommon for him to photograph the children of children he took pictures of decades before.
Kids can be tough to photograph, and a photographer might not always get a smile. Over the years, Murray has developed methods and tricks — one of which was making it appear that he could make his arm grow — to get smiles from the younger subjects.
“Most times we end up with something nice. I’ve had them crying because I guess I can look kind of menacing. Or you going into the camera room with all the lights, and it looks a bit like going to the doctor. They can get scared. But it’s pretty rare that that happens to us. I use comedy and play with the kids.”
Kent Murray Photography will have a “going-out-of-business” sale, Jan. 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. He is selling frames, cameras, lighting, props, furniture, and backgrounds. The business is at 110 Boone Square St., Suite 9 in Hillsborough.