Some might say peace can be thought of as a myth. A fragment of a utopian society, where individuals have passive lives and war and violence are mere words in a dictionary. However, in the world we live today and based on hard history facts, peace has never lived without its opposite. There has always been a need for restoring the world’s balance. Some might also say music is peace, as well as the arts and even some prestigious and enlightened characters. In this blog post, we got in touch with contemporary artist and humanitarian from New Zealand, Stu Robertson, to talk about his ambitious project, Peace in 10,000 hands and even if some of us cannot grasp the entirety of peace, we sure can be delighted with what it looks like.

Peace in 10,000 hands is an ambitious, moving project. Please give an overview of your inspiration and drive for this project with a short timeline and expected travel for next year 2016.

Thank you, my motivation is to use photography to create art as a borderless language to help invigorate and grow the global conversation for peace. Peace in 10,000 Hands is a simple but powerful idea that includes one of the world’s most ancient symbols of peace, the white rose photographed in the hands of 10,000 people from every country on the planet.

Short time line for you, started three years ago, five years remaining to photograph the 10,000 people and then the rest of my life working on the legacy of the project and the non profits we will fund. 

Travel plans for 2016 include Haiti, Cuba, South East Asia, Europe, Russia, South America and Africa. 

What’s your meaning of peace? 

The meaning of peace to me is having inner peace. It sits within each of us. It cannot be enforced. Peace is balance, contentment and understanding within yourself. So you can be good to others and in a space where you can practice tolerance and forgiveness. With a genuine desire to help others. Adding to the collective conscious in a positive way. I believe we each have a very thin veil that sits between us and our hearts’ desire. We should listen to our hearts and guts! Our mind and our ego with its sense of reason will generally talk us around from what we know deep down is right what is true.

[Tweet “”Peace will evolve through understanding. Realising we are all connected.” #StuRobertson #Leica @leica_camera”]

Why the white rose?

The white rose is an ancient symbol of peace. It symbolises a purity that sits deep within the fabric of the human condition. People of all countries, cultures, colours and religions are prepared to stand together and hold the white rose as a symbol of peace. In the Ottoman Empire that ruled for 600 years, Persian women were forbidden to communicate. They solidified communication with coloured flowers – yellow, friendship, red – passion and love, and the white rose remained a symbol of purity and peace. Ancient civilizations over the world have recorded the the white rose a symbol of peace and pure love. The white rose is not exclusive or divisive. It is uniting.

You claim hands express our life history and that no two hands tell the same story. Can you share a couple of your favorite hand-stories? 

In particular I am fascinated by the hands of the elders I meet in every country I travel to. The often gnarled, wrinkled, arthritic hands of those who have spent a lifetime toiling the earth or living hand to mouth to the manicured, but nevertheless wrinkled hands of someone who has spent their life in relative wealth as a writer.  

I’ve developed a habit of looking at peoples hands before I look up at their faces and it was in Rajasthan, India. There is so much colour, sound, smell to overwhelm the senses.  We were walking into an ancient fort and there I saw the hands of a woman who had no fingers, she was begging, she was dressed in orange and had the biggest toothless smile you’ve ever seen. Leprosy had robbed her of her fingers, but nothing could take the joy that emanated from her participation in simply being alive.

Another time was photographing a gang member in LA.  He was trying to reform from his violent past, to live a better life and to take choice back into his life rather than being a slave to the cycle of violence and war that he had grown up with. However, beyond the ink of his tattoos, his fists were strewn with the scars of that history, of fights for survival of the life he was trying to rise from.  When I asked him what peace meant to him, he said ‘ultimately peace means freedom’. 

Hands represent the evolution in mankind (e.g. think of a drummer, or a chef, or a photographer); how do you think we will evolve to create peace?

Peace will evolve through understanding. Realising we are all connected. If one goes hungry, we all do. Because we don’t see it every day does not abdicate us from the need to protect and provide for a child, their parents. We must work every day on making the world a better place. It starts with inner peace. 

World-renowned celebrities have resonated with your cause, what are the next steps for generating additional funds and support?

It seems I’ve been good at opening doors and meeting some incredible people. I’ve never been great at asking others for help, I tend to just put my head down and get on with the job. Up until this point the project has been entirely self funded by my wife and I and more recently through the sale of artworks and my first book. I speak at conferences with 100% of all sales and all speaking engagements going towards funding the project.  

Our online presence and the global conversation for peace is growing and creating the ripple effect I so often speak of. However, we are at a point now where funding is slowing the project down. I need to secure sponsorship of thinkgs like airfares, accommodation and rentals cars of the project to ensure we can complete it. So…. my next step is to approach airlines, hotel chains and car hire companies for a partnership. 

What is the role your Leica cameras play in this project?

Everything. Little Leica dots pulse through my veins. My first photograph for the project in New York was on a Leica S. My last photograph (the 10,000th) will also be on a Leica. I use the S – 70mm and 35mm, M240 and Monochrom with the 50mm APO / 35mm and 24mm Summilux. I am in South Africa now where I photographed Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the new SL. I would call the SL, sharp and fast and a blessing when under pressure.

You have shot with the Leica D-Lux, did you use any other cameras for this project? Why the D-Lux?

I limited my photographic practice to a D-Lux for two years prior to starting this project. I observed the world and wondered what I wanted to do with my photography. I only want to be involved in companies and projects with a cause now. I had a dark room as a teenager and the D-Lux takes me back to those days. I don’t crop or edit my D-Lux shots. Square and film grain settings preferred. I have had a few exhibitions and installations from my work with the D-Lux. I love it and think it is hugely underrated.

Describe some of the technical challenges you’ve had while shooting all over the world.

I’ve had none really. Some scary situations for sure, but none to do with gear failure! I am blessed to be doing this project. I am thankful for all that it has thrown at me. There are limitations in some of my geographical locations – lighting, lack of power to recharge, dust storms, extreme cold, extreme heat, cyclones… I just prepare and proceed with a smile! The Leica gear has never let me down or missed a shot, not once. From Antarctica to the Syrian Border to the Thar Dessert in Rajasthan. I give thanks for everything and that I have such wonderful gear to use.

[Tweet “”The Leica gear has never let me down or missed a shot, not once.” @StuRobertson #Leica @leica_camera”] 

Of the places you’ve visited and photographed throughout this project, which are the ones that inspire you the most?

A tough question. The world is an incredible place. People are phenomenally inspiring. Nature is powerful. The world over leaves me speechless. The two locations I would pick that I have just visited would be Iraq and Antarctica. They are the complete opposite of each other war and peace, hot and cold, populated and not, scary and calm. 

The world is a fast-paced and sometimes, hostile environment, especially for the up-and-coming generations. What is your message for them? What do you want them to understand through your art and this project?

To slow down. Breathe, be alive in this very moment. Think of the consequences of our actions today. The effect they will have in the future. The hope is in our children. The hope is for our children. The next generation will grow up wondering why there are no exotic animals left in the wild. Why humans pick on and destroy each other. Why we did not prepare a better world for them. For their children. You can have all the money. You can have the biggest house. The biggest fridge. But something as simple as not being able to turn a tap on and have fresh water pour out can make all that irrelevant. Billions of people on the planet cannot do this right now. My project is aimed at making a statement through photography. I believe art is a borderless language. I am using photography to create a conversation, to bring awareness to how powerful each of our thoughts and actions are in our daily lives to the collective consciousness that connects every living being on the planet.

Thank you Stu!

To connect with Stu Robertson and know more about Peace in 10,000 hands, please visit the official website, and through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Watch Stu Robertson talk about Peace in 10,000 hands on 60 minutes and in this TEDx talk.