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14 September 2017

Eduardo Martins, the celebrated war photographer who didn’t really exist

BBC World Service tells the story of a fake.

By Antonia Quirke

“This is a cautionary tale,” warned the presenter Megha Mohan during a report about the 32-year-old Brazilian war photographer Eduardo Martins (10 September, 10.20am). Martins has 125,000 followers on Instagram; his work documenting conflict zones has appeared around the world, including the Wall Street Journal – but it seems Martins isn’t a war photographer. Nobody knows what he is. Not a person exists who has actually met “Eduardo Martins” – someone who likes to give boastful and strictly online interviews about surviving cancer and saving children from Molotov cocktails.

For several years (until a journalist in the Lebanon started asking questions) Martins passed off other photographers’ work as his own, using chasteningly basic mirror-imaging techniques to elude plagiarism software. All of which has been reported across the world – but never so Bill & Ted-ishly as here. “I was, like, daaang!” frowned a photographer whose images had been nicked. “This dude used a cheap-ass Photoshop trick to hijack several years of my work.”

Martins had also appropriated, as personal ID, the Facebook profile photographs of a Cornish surfer called Max – hair shaggy as a chrysanthemum, above a lovely salty tan. The real Max himself popped up, a one-man Leveson Inquiry: “So I thought, yeah, that’s weird.”

A war photographer! Phwoar! Think Nick Nolte in Under Fire crossed with John Malkovich in The Killing Fields – plus Patrick Swayze in Point Break. It quickly became clear that Martins (or whoever) had done all of this basically to meet girls. Like a heron snacking on dozing trout, he had six women – young, successful, professional – seemingly involved in intense “romantic online relationships” with him.

Syria, Iraq, the scooped and blasted villages of Afghanistan – mere window-dressing, effectively the velvet chaise across which he’d been lolling. “What can we learn from all this?” demanded Mohan, like an amiable TV detective who must wait until the last episode to get shrewd. Ga! Too late. Eduardo has disappeared. He’s taking “a year-long break to travel to Australia, and wants to be left in peace”. I picture him relaxed, on a fully licensed flight. 

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