Magic will happen
March 3, 2017
Words: Helene Ravlich/
Photos: Stu Robertson
It’s a simple act – photographing a white rose, an ancient symbol of peace – in someone’s hand. For Stuart Robertson, the mission is to do this 10,000 times with 10,000 different people, in every country on the planet. It’s a mission he says that will consume him for the rest of his life, and he hopes along the way to inspire a conversation that will change the world.
"I’ve been to fifty-odd countries on every single continent and everything seems at a point of distress. I think the world is ready for this conversation, and being a Kiwi I wanted to take something to the world and make it, not impossible, but seem ridiculously large. I think it’s the largest single photographic project in the world right now."
Three thousand people down, seven thousand to go. It’s already an immense achievement for what Robertson admits is a "ridiculous" idea. "I’m going to take a fake rose and put it in the hands of people and we’re going to raise 100 million dollars for children’s charity. Where’s the proof of concept – your mum’s saying ‘how are you making money, how are you paying for your airfares?’ Well the proof of concept to me is the Dalai Lama, who doesn’t have portaits any more, and his head guy who’s been around him for 20 years is saying ‘he aint gonna hold a rose’… and he did it."
Stuart has a string of celebrity names who have taken part in the project, and while he’s immensely grateful to them for putting their star power to the cause, these aren’t the people he most likes meeting.
Some of the most interesting people are the most different to you..."
"Some of the most interesting people are the most different to you… like someone who lives in extreme adversity and somehow manages to survive and has a bigger smile on their face than most people you’ll meet. Some of the most extraordinary people I’ve met on this project have nothing. I’ve just got back from Papua New Guinea and I was on an island in the Bismarck Sea – they still light fires with sticks, they catch fish with spears that they make, it’s a phenomenal thing. They’re happy and they’re free and they don’t have money."
With each photo he takes, Stuart also asks the subject what peace means to them. Four years into the project and thousands of answers later, he must be one of the most qualified people in the world to answer the question himself.
"I think that if you truly have peace within yourself then conflict doesn’t sit within you, maybe forgiveness and understanding does. But that’s a concept I find deeply and viscerally and at a cellular level hard to conceive. I don’t know if that’s the Scottish side of me, it’s something that is very hard to grasp, forgiveness."
"I’d say peace to me is about inner peace. It’s not something that we readily admit to ourselves, there’s this thin veil that protects us from our childlike self. I was in a park a couple of weeks ago, there were kids running around and they were jumping in the fountain, there was a sandpit and they were just being nuts. And I thought that is awesome that’s what I want to do, but there’s who we want to be and who we think we need to be in front of people."
Stuart says the project would mean nothing if he spent his time photographing in London, New York, LA and Tokyo, and has set his sights on giving a voice to those who might not otherwise have it. One of his favourite memories happened in the Philippines, a place he says "where you can feel a sense of inner peace". He held a lolly scramble for children there, and watched as they ran around excitedly gathering the lollies, and then sharing them out evenly to ensure no-one missed out.
It’s through simple acts like this Stuart believes his hope of world peace will come about. "The fact is if you touch one person, you touch more people, so if you have inner peace yourself, then your family has inner peace, then your village has inner peace, then your state has inner peace and you can start to build out."
It might sound simplistic, but Peace in 10,000 Hands now speaks for itself. Thousands have been photographed. Hundreds of thousands have been engaged. Stuart’s first thought when he came up with the project seems to have come true:
"If I put 100% of my energy here, magic will happen."