In one Santa Barbara, California gallery, the portraits bring back memories for Vietnam vet Hap Desimone. But they’re not portraits of soldiers, they’re portraits of Zippo lighters.
“Here’s an interesting one,” Edwards says, “a broken peace sign on a bracelet.”
In a new book chronicling his work, Edwards explains that each Zippo tells a story – the disgruntled soldier, the lonely soldier, the bored soldier. Edwards became captivated by the engraved Zippos and began recreating them in his own art: larger than life portraits in metal, in stone, in lacquer and mother of pearl.
“When they’re done in this artistic fashion, I think they celebrate and extol the virtues and highlight the carving,” Edwards says.
Just the sound of a Zippo opening is iconic, and Zippos sparked controversy in one of the most famous images from Vietnam.
After Morley Safer reported in August 1965 that a village was lit on fire with lighters, the Zippo became an image of a war going the wrong way. But to Edwards the Zippos are not about the big issues, but about the individual soldier.
“You had people who were discontent people who wanted to express heartfelt emotions,” he says. “And here was a small canvas.”
“They look like a collection of tombstones,” Edwards says. “And they maybe the last thing some of these guys had to say.”
While some of the soldiers may never have made it home, now their Zippos are here illuminating the past.