Photographer who clicked war zones, survived leukaemia exposed as a fake
The BBC’s Brazilian site first published an interview along with photos and videos supposedly shot by Eduardo Martins in July, then revealed his scam after an investigation by a Lebanon-based reporter, Natasha Ribeiro.Updated: Sep 06, 2017 11:10 IST
The compelling photos that Eduardo Martins took from some of the world’s worst war zones earned him a growing reputation, glowing interviews, space in some of the world’s biggest media outlets and more than 120,000 followers on Instagram.
People loved the story of the handsome blond 32-year-old Brazilian surfer, who survived leukaemia then found new meaning in photographing conflict. His dramatic images of war zones were published by the Wall Street Journal, Vice and the BBC.
But there was just one problem: it was a lie. An investigation by BBC Brasil has revealed Martins stole photos of a British surfer called Max Hepworth-Povey and passed them off as himself.
The BBC’s Brazilian site first published an interview along with photos and videos supposedly shot by Martins in July, then revealed his scam after an investigation by a Lebanon-based reporter, Natasha Ribeiro. The scale of the deception, which emerged in recent days, has sent shockwaves through Brazilian photographic circles.
As his story began to unravel, reporters made contact with the Brazilian photographer Fernando Costa Netto, who had been talking to Martins on the internet for over a year and had published an interview with him on the Brazilian surfing site Waves.
When Costa Netto told Martins the reporters believed his photos, and possibly his entire online presence, were fake, he received a final message. “I am in Australia. I took the decision to pass a year in a van. I am going to cut everything, including internet. I want to be in peace, we will see each other when I return,” he wrote. “A big hug.”
Costa Netto, who had been in touch with Martins over plans to stage an exhibition of his work, told the Guardian in an email that he was deeply disappointed. “I have more pity than anger,” he said. “There is a certain deception with human beings, to trick people is ugly.”
Getty Images said in a statement they had removed all the work purporting to be by Martins.
“Eduardo Martins … was identified as a collaborator and content supplier for one of our partners who has already been notified about this infraction. While we work together with all our internal departments to urgently clarify this issue, we are removing all the material involved from the air,” a spokesman said in an email.
In his interview with Costa Netto for Waves, published in July, Martins said he had leukaemia at 18 and had spent seven years in treatment. He told Costa Netto he was currently in Mosul, Iraq, had accompanied the Free Syrian Army in 2015 and had even been grazed by a shot in Aleppo.
“I became a conflict zone photographer,” Martins said in the interview. “I found what I really wanted as a photographer.”
Renata Simões, a São Paulo-based journalist and television reporter, talked via Instagram’s message service with Martins three times as he contacted a number of Brazilian women working in the media. She was interested in a surf project in the Gaza Strip, but Martins did not know about it, even though he claimed to have spent time in the territory and surfed there.
Martins invited her to a photographic exhibition in São Paulo, but she couldn’t make it.
“I thought it was strange that someone who said they knew so much about Gaza had never heard of this surf project,” Simões said. “At the end we believe in a story we want to believe in. Sometimes the story is so good we don’t bother to check it.”
The São Paulo photographer Nina Keller said he had told her he was not scared of war, only cancer, when she interviewed him for the M Journal site.
“I never saw him personally. He tricked me, and above this, he sent me flowers, called me every day, sent me messages,” Keller said.
When the scam emerged, Ignácio Aronovitch, a São Paulo photographer, began looking at the images that Martins had claimed as his own.
“They did not have any visual consistency. For me they had been taken by different photographers. Photographers have their own style,” he said. “For me it was clear that Eduardo Martins was using photos from more than one source.”
Aronovitch said he had found one picture where a photographer was holding a camera that appeared to have no shutter button, and others that appeared to have been flipped. After searching on Google images, Aronovitch discovered that Martins had been stealing images from other photographers, often from different places, doctoring them and placing them as his own.
He was also suspicious of an interview Martins gave to Recount Magazine , in which he said he had stopped shooting a conflict in Iraq to help a boy injured by a molotov cocktail. “Who uses a molotov cocktail in Iraq where there are millions of weapons?” Aronovitch said.
Daniel C Britt, an American photographer, told the BBC that Martins had stolen some of his work. One image in the Recount magazine interview, labelled “Palestinian boy screaming after the clash against Israeli forces, east Gaza”, was in fact a photograph taken by Britt in Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2010. Martins had flipped the image, making it harder to trace what he had done.
Costa Netto said there was a big lesson to be learnt. “It is necessary to be more rigorous in checking sources,” he said. “I have no doubt there are other Eduardos out there working.”