Santa Fe artists tap into Aspen’s energy for ‘Lightning Strike’ series |

Santa Fe artists tap into Aspen’s energy for ‘Lightning Strike’ series

Lightning Strike, Smuggler Mountain, Jan. 13.
Scott Christopher and Elizabeth Hayes Christopher/Courtesy photo

When Santa Fe artists Scott Christopher and Elizabeth Hayes Christopher began to think about where to bring their Lightning Strike series, Aspen was top of mind.

“Aspen has always been a high priority on our list of destinations to create in. Aspen is legendary,” said Scott.

And so, the week of Jan. 9, they brought themselves and their gear to share their life-altering experience and message of survival and love with our little town.

Lightning Strike, top of Aspen Mountain, Jan. 12.
Courtesy Elizabeth Hayes Christopher and Scott Christopher

The Christophers’ journey to the top of Aspen Mountain began on Aug. 10, 2022, at 3:55 p.m. when the couple was struck by blue-sky lightning outside their Santa Fe studio.

The phenomenon, often called “a bolt from the blue,” is a cloud-to-ground lightning strike that originates from the back of a thunder cloud from a thunderstorm up to 50 miles away. The sky can be clear blue, with no clouds above, and then the strike seemingly comes out of nowhere. They are rare and can be deadly.

That August day, the Christophers, who will have been married 19 years in February, were facing each other on the edge of their studio’s concrete-slab patio in front of wide-open doors on an “unusually still and pleasant day,” as they hung wire on one of Elizabeth’s paintings when the strike occurred.

“The ground, about 70 feet in front of me and behind her, exploded up,” said Scott. “There was a roughly 12-foot orange-red glow that circled behind Elizabeth’s head. She was silhouetted inside the center of it. This circle had black-and-white fringe with brilliant, red and gold flame — like branches coming out of it that were at least 10 feet long. The ground vibrated, and the electrical current came at us and felt like through us. The current burned my eyes. The explosion transmitted a boom that was deafening.”

Elizabeth had her back to the strike, but that didn’t diminish the intensity of the force she felt.

“Suddenly, and extremely jarringly, a cracking sound louder and more forceful than I had ever heard, exploded behind me. I moved forward to escape the perceived danger and fell to my knees on the concrete floor,” she said. “I cried out intermittently for two minutes, in deep, traumatic, guttural, and primal pain. Before I began to calm down, my body and mind were filled with an indescribable feeling of fright, emotional unearthing, and then peace. My left arm became tingly and numb. I told Scott I felt nauseous.”

In the immediate aftermath, Scott turned his attention to his wife, who was on the ground in a fetal position shivering and moaning. He held and comforted her, assuring her they were both all right.

Elizabeth recalls later thinking that surviving such a close call together “was profoundly and oddly romantic.”

It took them a few weeks to deal with the emotional and physical toll. Having been the one who saw the strike, Scott’s eyes burned intensely for six weeks. He said his optometrist observed lower rim damage, among other things.

“Both of my elbows were very sensitive and hot for a month. The end of my toes tingled, which is still present today. The blast seemed to go through my body, making it feel dense, like bricks with elevated temperatures,” he said.

Elizabeth, who was closer to the strike, said she had the feeling of a wave of energy that jetted through her limbs, and her left arm was numb and tingling for hours after.

But, it’s the spiritual and mental side-effects still unfolding months later.

“Was it electrical, fear-based, survival-driven, an awakening? There are so many questions. I sense that this was a powerful turning point,” she said.

The couple, each accomplished artists, began to discuss a more performance-based collaboration to help them process the experience and share it with the world.

Lightning Strike, Hydra, Greece, Oct. 10, 2022.
Courtesy of Scott Christopher and Elizabeth Hayes Christopher

“For Scott and me to have survived such a dangerous and unpredictable event together, we want to share what we experienced,” she said. “The performances and documentation tell our story.”

They began working on a series in which they hike into hard-to-reach energetic areas of nature with flame-orange/red Mylar tarps. When they find the right spot, they set up a camera on a tripod, pull out the tarps, cover their human forms and contort into spontaneous shapes as the shutter clicks away, producing dynamic images mimicking what they felt and saw on the day of the strike.

Lightning Strike (Elizabeth Hayes Christopher). Santa Fe, New Mexico, Nov. 24, 2022, Thanksgiving Day.
Courtesy Elizabeth Hayes Christopher and Scott Christopher

After producing some photos in Hydra, Greece, and their hometown of Santa Fe, they turned their attention to Aspen.

“Aspen is a visually-compelling and energetically inspiring portal. It is breathtaking and unique,” she explained.

They spent the week wandering around town and enjoying the annual Wintersköl celebrations while scouting locations for their pop-up guerilla-style photo shoot. 

Moving about Aspen was a pure pleasure. We found the landscapes and town artistically inspiring,” he recalled. “The people were amazing, so gracious and welcoming. At times, we commented that we thought we were in a snow-globe dream.”

Lightning Strike, Aspen Art Museum, Jan. 10.
Courtesy Scott Christopher and Elizabeth Hayes Christopher

Their first stop was the Aspen Art Museum, where they were politely told they were welcome to shoot around the perimeter of the building, which was fine with them as they noted “the amazing angular architecture.”

On the first blue-bird day after a couple of days of snow, they hopped on the gondola and headed to the top of the mountain. With an audience of skiers, snowboarders, and others gathered around, curious, they finally captured what they had been planning for the past couple of months.

And while, yes, as artists they strive to create the most compelling visual content they can, ultimately there was a much bigger motivation and message behind this series, they said.

“We want to give people a moment, a pause to love each other and breathe deeply,” he said.

“And to embrace the beauty of it all,” she added.

Scott Christopher and Elizabeth Hayes Christopher at the top of Aspen Mountain on Jan. 12.
Scott and Elizabeth Hayes Christopher/Courtesy photo
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“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.

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