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War Photojournalist Exposed as Con Artist

War Photojournalist Exposed as Con Artist

In a story that could only happen in our current media saturated, social media crazed, 24/7 news atmosphere, a Brazilian man fooled established media outlets worldwide as well as 120,000 plus Instagram followers into thinking he was a United Nations war photographer for the past three years. After being exposed, he is supposedly "in Australia...spend(ing) a year in a van," and his identity still unknown.

This remarkable hoax was perpetrated by a man named Eduardo Martins (a pseudonym), a 32-year old from Sao Paolo, Brazil. "Martins" had a great story -  leukemia survivor, surfer, and war photographer who had spent time documenting conflict in the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Iraq. Until he was caught, he had received significant exposure in major outlets and agencies including The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Getty, Zuma, and BBC Brazil. BBC Brazil's Natasha Ribeiro grew suspicious of "Martins" after trying to vet his story (though at this point, BBC Brazil had already published a lengthy profile on him, since retracted). 

No one, among authorities and non-governmental organizations in Syria or Iraq, has ever seen or heard about Eduardo Martins."

Ignacio Aronovich, a photographer from Sao Paulo conducted further detective work and realized that "Martins" had stolen and horizontally flipped various images from photographer Daniel C. Britt; by doing this, he was able to evade detection through Google reverse image searches. 

"Martins" also stole the identity of 32-year-old British man Max Hepworth-Povey, passing off Povey's likeness as his own. 

via screengrab SBS (Instagram)

After being contacted by war photographer and journalist Fernando Costa Netto inquiring about growing suspicions that "Martins" wasn't who he said he was, "Martins" immediately deleted all of his online accounts and wrote the following to Netto:

I'm in Australia. I've made the decision to spend a year in a van. I'll delete everything online including internet. I want to be in peace, we'll see each other when I get back. For anything write me at dudumartisn23@yahoo.com. A big hug. I'm going to delete the zap. God be with you. A hug. 

At the moment, there are no leads on who this con artist is or what his current whereabouts are. It's very possible he may never be identified - the bigger question is what are the lessons that can be learned to prevent this sort of fraud from occurring again? 

[via SBS]

Aneesh Kothari's picture

Aneesh Kothari is a Houston-based travel, landscape, and cityscape photographer. He enjoys reading Fstoppers.com, traveling with his family, and making lists of things he enjoys. He yearns to be a Civil War buff but has yet to finish the Ken Burns series.

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I'm surprised that it took so long to notice the duplicate photos as they are quite unique. Did he make money or just got a following?

He definitely gained a large following and wide recognition. As far as money goes, I'm not sure at this moment. From the SBS article: "There is no confirmation from Getty or Zuma agencies that they have paid the fake photographer..."

He was obviously going to disappear. You have to catch people like this with honey, vinegar doesn't work. Can you imagine if the person who had caught him instead of reaching out to him or exposing him had invited him to receive an award or some sort of recognition? We'd know exactly who he was and maybe even his motivation today. Instead dude is hanging out in a van somewhere in Australia contemplating poor life choices.

I agree - Netto is definitely been getting a lot of heat for inadvertently alerting "Martins" and accelerating his disappearing act. Too bad - I doubt we'll ever find out his identity. Thanks for reading and commenting!

There's likely someone out there - we don't even really know if the main protagonist is male or female or a team, let alone if they're from Brazil - who's having a great laugh about how successful their stunt was.

It will happen again, probably by the same person, because of media outlets' propensity to blindly parrot each other. Such a practice is so rife that this very article parrots another article without reference to doing any independent checks.

This is the very thing that enables such scams to exist - I bet the writer of this Fstoppers piece never even considered the possibility that someone at SBS made up the hoax in the first place.

For things to change, the very nature of journalism would need to be renewed. It will never happen; it is much quicker and easier to parrot others whilst filling any gaps with one's own assumptions or inventions to sell a story.

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you re: the issues with media outlets rushing to report news without thoroughly vetting. I did check several other outlets who reported the same story so I'm pretty confident that SBS did not make this up. That being said, it could be argued that all of these outlets are parroting each other in a similar fashion to how they got conned in the first place. Interesting times we live in.

That's exactly what I'm saying - you all parrot each other, as you did here. I have no idea why you think that seeing several sites publish the same information gives you confidence to publish it too, but you all do it. That's simply how journalism works.

It seems unlikely that SBS (or the guy they mainly copied the story from) just made this up, but then again, it seemed unlikely that Eduardo Martins was faking his role as a conflict photographer.

Let's face it, you don't have time for proper fact checking to write this story, and neither does anyone else. Thorough fact checking won't pay the bills.

Hence why nothing will change, and scams like this will continue to be repeated. I applaud whomever is behind this scam for highlighting the problem. But I have no hope it will change anything.

I said itun the article about the woman who was participating in a contest with other person's phothos:

How can people in contests and news agencies be so lazy to not use Tineye and Google Image Search? It takes literally seconds to use these services to check if the photos are legit.

There actually was an article a while ago (don't remember whether it was reddit or some dpreview) where the winner was later disqualified after a tineye search. I'm just surprised the judges don't do a search before they make any announcements. Edit: sorry I was talking about the article about the woman that you mention yourself :)

Two reasons. Firstly, media outlets don't have a culture of properly checking anything. They can't afford to take the time. Usually they're happy to parrot something if a so-called "reputable" media organisation has already published it. The problem is, that other "reputable" organisation, no matter who it is, doesn't have time to properly check things either.

Secondly, the images in this case were mirrored and otherwise doctored, to trick reverse image searches. This is reportedly one of the things that initially indicated it was a scam - apparently there was a camera in one of the photos that had the shutter button on the left side of the camera, not the right.

I'm sure it's annoying for the photographers involved but isn't instagram full of other people pictures / drawings / kittens?
It's all more silly than anything else. If he's in Australia any old camera would get him good photographs of his own.

Wonder who the websites are that abetted his fraud by giving him a platform?

Somewhere, Robert Capa is laughing.

I'm not really surprised. I'm happy see him exposed though. Bastard.

Isn't what this photographer did almost the same as what most of the F-stoppers writers are doing? Taking someone else's work, changing it a tiny bit, and then making their own article about it hoping to make money off of it? For every article that an fstoppers.com writer does that it from scratch, I fully applaud them. But just taking articles that have been done over and over, and rewriting them is crap. So is posting a video, and then writing a paragraph or two about it. Hard work has just been lost these days in journalism.

I think you misunderstand the idea of a repost. We're embedding that person's content, so they get all the views and credit they properly deserve. By featuring it on our platform, it's a win-win. What this guy did would be as if one of our writers downloaded another person's video, then uploaded it to their own account as if they had made it, which we would obviously never do.

I understand that to a degree. But fstoppers used to actually create articles. Now the writers just write a short paragraph or two and link a video. How has fstoppers come to this? I'm trying to think of the last fstoppers article that was actually created where truly useful information was given and wasn't torn to shreds in the comments. Times have changed I guess. It just doesn't seem to require any kind of photography skill to be an fstoppers writer these days, and that seems so out of place for a website dedicated to photography.

Fstoppers hasn't come to that. We put out literally dozens of originals a week: https://fstoppers.com/#originals