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From space alien to ballerina, your 2D alter-ego is here.
From space alien to ballerina, your 2D alter-ego is here.

Connie's Photo Park

Field review by the editors.

Madrid, New Mexico

Along Highway 14, the heavily-promoted "Turquoise Trail" between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, stands the old mining town of Madrid (pronounced MAH-drid). It's had its share of milestones, such as being the home of the first lighted baseball field west of the Mississippi River, and the longest bar in New Mexico. What it didn't have was a photo-op -- no mission church, no majestic vista -- something that screamed "snap me!" to the procession of tourists passing through.

In 1874 Cassius Coolidge patented the cartoon photo-op.
In 1874 Cassius Coolidge patented the cartoon photo-op.

It needed a place like Connie's Photo Park.

The Park wouldn't exist without the foundation laid by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. He was a New Yorker, and the artist who created Dogs Playing Poker. In 1874 he patented a trick photography gimmick: a cartoon painting with a cutout for a live human face. By the 20th century it had become the ubiquitous head-in-the-hole photo-op. Thanks to Cassius' idea, generations of Americans have snapshots of themselves posed as everything from a bronco-busting' cowboy to a meal inside the mouth of a lion.

Connie's previous profession was as a sign painter.
Connie's previous profession was as a sign painter.

Connie Mayhew had those kinds of memories in spades. As a native of Key West, one of America's head-in-the-hole capitals, she grew up seeing tourists waiting for a chance to be a mermaid or an angler hauling in a world-record marlin. After a career as a sign painter and photographer, Connie moved to Madrid in 1993 ("It was a ghost town and then became sort of an artist colony," she recalled) and started painting head-in-the-hole photo-ops as a tribute to her Key West roots.

In 2010, when an empty lot became available on Highway 14, Connie's Photo Park was born. Connie's painting studio is there, and if she's around when you visit that's where you'll likely find her. The Park has no posted open times, no illumination for after-dark snapping, and a donation box instead of an entry fee. Though vandals might be a worry with such a good-faith system, Connie told us that no photo-ops have been desecrated or stolen.

Photo-ops for solitary travelers, couples, and 1970s rock bands.
Photo-ops for solitary travelers, couples, and 1970 rock bands.

Connie Mayhew with brush and pot of paint.
Connie Mayhew with brush and pot of paint.

The Park offers around 15 plywood head-in-the-hole photo-ops at any one time. Connie keeps them in constant circulation: lending them out to friends for parties, pulling the older boards into the studio for a fresh coat of paint. It is eerie to walk into the Park and then turn around, facing the back of the cutouts, which are a series of walls with face-shaped holes. Without Connie's artwork, they look like a congregation of Pilgrim-era pillories.

Visitors to the Park who want a keepsake of the town can opt for the body of a Madrid miner or baseball player. Those craving cinematic nostalgia can become Peter Fonda on his Easy Rider chopper. Foursome groups can get everyone involved, with Connie's headless portrait of the band Led Zeppelin, circa 1973, which Connie said is partly a plea from her to Robert Plant -- "His stomach took me, like, forever," to paint, she said -- to come back to Madrid, a visit still remembered fondly by the old-timers in town.

Ready for heads.
Ready for heads.

Connie drives a cutout car on the Turquoise Trail.
Connie drives a cutout car on the Turquoise Trail.

Connie is very sweet, and told us that it's sometimes difficult to get work done because she's so often asked to snap the pictures of those who visit. "It is," she said, "a lot of what my day consists of." Yet she has no plans to stop, and hopes to expand the Park's offerings with Olde Timey vintage costume photos, another vacation mainstay.

The town, although characteristically against things that might attract artless outsiders and dreaded weekenders, seems to have embraced the Park. While the head-in-the-hole clearly springs from the world of tourist traps, Connie is seen as a craftsperson of kitsch, not some quick-buck vulgarian. And her Park serves a useful purpose. The Turquoise Trail is perhaps too idyllic to be sullied by selfies boasting where you've been. Better to get to Connie's and have her snap you with the body of a gunslinger or space alien. She is, after all, a professional.

Connie's Photo Park

2881 NM-14, Madrid, NM
On the north side of town, on the west side of NM-14. Look for the Photo Park sign.
Daylight hours. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Donations welcome.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Cattle Crossing UFO SignsCattle Crossing UFO Signs, Madrid, NM - < 1 mi.
Bottle HouseBottle House, Golden, NM - 10 mi.
Life-size Brontosaurus FamilyLife-size Brontosaurus Family, Santa Fe, NM - 15 mi.
In the region:
Owl Cafe, Albuquerque, NM - 31 mi.

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