Monday, 12:00pm
28 July 2008

Don’t blame the Zippos

david barringer
Visual culture

During the 1965-73 Vietnam war, writes David Barringer, American soldiers etched slogans and images on to the metal of the Zippo lighters they carried with them, and which, notoriously, were on occasion used to set huts on fire.

The photographs in Vietnam Zippos, by Sherry Buchanan (Thames & Hudson, £14.95), capture every nick and scratch of the hundreds of lighters collected over the past fifteen years by the American artist Bradford Edwards, whose father was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. The etched slogans are brutal (‘If you are recovering my body, fuck you’), personal (‘I love you, Mary’) and uncensored (‘Give me your hearts and minds or I will wreck your fucking huts). The book itself should have had more confidence in its subject, however: the design drapes these objects of war in playful pinks and greens, frenetic sans serif type treatments, and scattershot quotes and facts, every spread jarring for its juxtaposition of talismans of death, lust and rage with the slick consumerism of a lifestyle magazine. The poor Zippos are like soldiers wandering down a fashion runway to a Robbie Williams cover of ‘Satisfaction’. But don’t blame the Zippos. Despite time, death and poor design, the emotions hit home.


Spread from Vietnam Zippos

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.