For years, the Brazilian surfer Eduardo Martins had been praised for his brave and compassionate war photography. He’d traveled to Gaza, Iraq, and Syria, taking selfies of his 32-year-old dashing self amid the rubble of Aleppo. The story went that he’d been bed-ridden for seven years in São Paulo, suffering from leukemia, and when he emerged he sought out a more meaningful life. According to Martins, everything changed in 2015, when he accompanied the Free Syrian Army for a few weeks in its fight against President Bashar al-Assad. “It was a very intense experience, and it was then that I became a photographer of conflict zones,” he said in an interview with Fernando Costa Netto for the Brazilian surfing website Waves.
In addition to accruing more than 1,200 followers on Instagram, Martins was profiled in major news outlets, including the BBC, Al Jazeera, and the Wall Street Journal. But as of last week, all of these articles have been deleted.
On September 1, BBC Brazil issued an extensive report revealing Martins’s photographs to be fake. The images of soldiers and dilapidated cities, it states, have been culled from the internet. What’s more, the blonde man — photoshopped into each of these settings — is not Martins but a British surfer named Max Hepworth-Povey.
Shortly after the BBC published an interview with Martins in July, the Lebanon-based journalist Natasha Ribeiro began her investigation. The suspicions kept adding up: Brazilian journalists who had been with the Peshmerga in Iraq had found no sign of Martins, despite his claim to have been there at the same time; Living Positive, the organization that runs a shelter for HIV-positive children in Kenya, said they had never seen or heard of Martins, even though he claimed to have been there in a photo in which he is surrounded by children. When Renata Simões, a São Paulo-based reporter, asked Martins about a surf project in the Gaza Strip, he said he knew nothing about it, despite all the time he spent there presumably surfing.
After conducting Google searches, BBC Brazil discovered that Martins had pulled photos from multiple sources, inverting the images so that they were harder to track down. One of the photos in Kirkuk, Iraq, for instance, was taken from American photographer Daniel C. Britt.
Getty Images deleted the photos it had by Martins, issuing the following statement in an email to the Guardian:
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.
Up until the scam was publicized, surfer Hepworth-Povey seemed to have been completely oblivious to his Instagram appearances in war-torn countries. In a recent interview with news.com.au, he said the photos Martins had used were a couple of years old, mostly taken from Hepworth-Povey’s Instagram and Facebook accounts.
As for Martins, he’s retreated into the far corners of Australia. After Waves journalist Costa Netto communicated to Martins that there had been some doubts raised about his identity, the faux photographer deleted his Instagram account. “I’m in Australia, I’ve decided to spend a year in a van traveling the world,” he said in a Whatsapp text to Costa Netto. “I want to be in peace.” Soon thereafter, he deleted his Whatsapp number as well.