The striking images in the portfolio of the photographer going by the name of “Eduardo Martins” captured the strife of refugees in Iraq and children in Gaza, of families fleeing destroyed towns in Syria.
The blue-eyed Brazilian portrayed himself as an intrepid photojournalist who risked his life on the front lines of war to “show the public the reality of these places” and move viewers to “make a difference,” he said in one interview. His name appeared alongside images published in international media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Vice and BBC Brasil. He claimed he did humanitarian work for the United Nations. He had almost 125,000 Instagram followers, including revered photographers worldwide.
And when he wasn’t documenting conflict zones, he was jet-setting in tropical destinations and surfing.
As if the 32-year-old’s supposed career wasn’t compelling enough, his backstory made it better.
The man who called himself Martins said he was diagnosed with leukemia at 18 and spent seven years bedridden in intensive care. “It was chemo or college,” he told a Brazilian surfing website. His said his father died of liver failure.
All of this, it turns out, was false.
When a Brazilian BBC correspondent became skeptical of Martins’s story, she began to unravel the truth. For years, the person calling himself Eduardo Martins was stealing and using someone else’s photographs, according to a BBC investigation. Many of the images he sent to photo agencies and news websites were actually taken by other professional photographers, such as U.S. photojournalist Daniel C. Britt.
The real name of the impostor is still unknown.
The photos were often inverted or tweaked just enough to sneak through software meant to identify plagiarism, the BBC reported. Many of them were taken by photographers in different locations than the captions purported.
He faked not only his portfolio, but also his identity. Pictures of “Eduardo Martins” on his Instagram actually showed the face of a British surfer named Max Hepworth-Povey.
Hepworth-Povey’s face appeared on the body of a photographer in places such as Aleppo and Somalia. In fact, those photographs were taken about five years ago, showing Hepworth-Povey surfing, hanging out or “blowing a kiss to an ex-girlfriend,” Hepworth-Povey told The Washington Post on Thursday.
Most of the photographs were from Hepworth-Povey’s Facebook account, which he deleted three years ago after a fake profile of him emerged on the social network.
“It’s just mad,” Hepworth-Povey said. “It’s like seeing an evil twin, like an identical nemesis. … I’m surprised no one really saw my face sooner.” He added that taking his face out of beachfront photographs and editing it into devastated war zones “just was so inappropriate.”
The revelations in the BBC story have stunned members of the international photojournalism community, and caused a number of agencies and websites to take down Martins’s “work.”
BBC Brasil, which had initially published a story about his photography career, removed the story and issued an apology to readers, the BBC reported.
In a statement to the Guardian, Getty Images said it had removed all images credited to Martins.
“Eduardo Martins … was identified as a collaborator and content supplier for one of our partners who has already been notified about this infraction,” the statement read. “While we work together with all our internal departments to urgently clarify this issue, we are removing all the material involved from the air.”
The U.N. Refugee Agency confirmed to the BBC that Martins was not an employee. Various other organizations he claimed to have worked for said they did not recognize him.
Moreover, editors and photojournalists who had communicated with Martins virtually said they never met him in person.
Britt, the photographer whose images were allegedly stolen by Martins, said in a statement to a Mashable reporter that many of the photos legally belonged to Playboy magazine.
“Once a story is done, I don’t really follow my content online, so I had no idea my photos were being resold by a social media geek for the last two years,” Britt said. “Eduardo Martins, whoever he is, was clever enough to slip past the editors of several magazines and The Wall Street Journal. … I am just disappointed that Eduardo Matins bastardized the photo captions and gave people yet another reason to distrust the news.”
“Some of the people depicted in them are no longer with us,” he added. “Their lives mattered. The lives of my interpreters, fixers and everyone who helped us along the way mattered. The value of these photos is more than the pittance Eduardo got from the agencies or his number of ‘Likes’ on Facebook.”
BBC Brasil reported that at least six young women said they had romantic online relationships with Martins. None of them met him in person.
Some of these women have reached out to Hepworth-Povey in the days since the BBC investigation, he said. They approached him “slightly traumatized,” telling Hepworth-Povey they believed they were speaking to him for the past six months.
In recent days, he has gained about a thousand Instagram followers, along with a few marriage proposals.
“I’m flattered, you know,” Hepworth-Povey said. “It’s just a bit weird.”
But it was also troubling that Martins would “glamorize” and take credit for work performed by people “risking their lives,” Hepworth-Povey said.
A trail of photographs and stories about Martins remain on the Internet, detailing the fictional life he portrayed. In one interview published in Recount magazine, Martins described the challenges of working in conflict zones. He claimed he was nearly shot in clashes between the Free Syrian Army and opposition forces. He spoke of doing humanitarian work for NGOs.
When asked what he thinks of photo editing tools, he said: “I personally do not use any program like photoshop; I believe that a good real photographer does not need to edit the image, he does a good job even without these tools.”
Larisa Karr, a 26-year-old mass communications student at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, conducted the interview for Recount magazine, which she co-founded. She told The Post she reached out to him via Instagram after seeing his photos shared by a news agency.
“They told really effective stories,” Karr told The Post. He asked to conduct the interview over email. “There were really no red flags. The interview was pretty candid.”
When Karr heard the news that Martins appears to have faked his photographs, she was “taken aback,” she said. “It really shocked me in the sense that someone would pretend to go to this place and sort of trivialize and tokenize people’s struggles. … It gives photojournalists a bad name for sure.”
Sergey Ponomarev, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer from Russia, agreed that everyone latched on to Martins’s scheme. Ponomarev said he followed the Instagram account but never met Martins.
“And in the era of digital millennium we have to develop different or new background check procedures,” Ponomarev told The Post. “Right now everyone can say that he is doing something and people will believe him. Usually people don’t go deep to check.”
Martins’s ability to elude members of the industry should serve as a lesson to journalists, Ponomarev said: “Double check. Be suspicious.”
Plagiarism in journalism is, of course, not new. But as technology improves, more tools have become available to trick the system.
As recently as May of this year, Souvid Datta, an award-winning photojournalist, admitted to doctoring pictures and appropriating the work of other photographers.
For now, it remains unclear who exactly “Eduardo Martins” is, and where he resides.
Photographer Fernando Costa Netto interviewed Martins for a story in the Brazilian surfing publication Waves. He had been talking to Martins on the Internet for over a year, the Guardian reported.
When Costa Netto told Martins that people were questioning his legitimacy, Martins sent one last message before taking down his social media accounts and deleting his WhatsApp, the BBC reported.
“Hey bro. I’m in Australia. I made the decision of spending a year travelling around the world in a van. I will cut off everything, including the Internet, and I deleted my IG [Instagram],” he wrote.
“I want to be [left] in peace. We’ll speak again when I’m back. Hugs.”
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