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

BBC World Service tells the story of a fake.

“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. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem

Emma Moore as Ruth Ellis
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Rasping old cassettes bring new depth to a familiar true crime tale in BBC Four’s The Ruth Ellis Files

Plus, a BBC Two documentary about Brixton reggae producer Steve “Blacker Dread” Burnett-Martin.

I thought I knew the Ruth Ellis story inside out: when I was writing my book about women’s lives in the 1950s, her name came up so often – almost daily, it fell like a shadow over my desk – I finally had to give in and take a detour, reading everything about her that I could find, for all that she wasn’t part of my plan (if you’re interested too, and want a primer, I recommend A Fine Day for a Hanging by Carol Ann Lee). But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I didn’t really know anything at all, for I never once felt even half so haunted in the British Library as I did the other night in the moments after I finished watching Gillian Pachter’s three-part documentary series, The Ruth Ellis Files: A Very British Crime Story (13-15 March, 9pm).

It wasn’t that Pachter, an American filmmaker who specialises in true crime, had vast quantities of new information; the thrust of her investigation had to do with the part played by Ellis’s other lover, Desmond Cussen, in the murder of David Blakely, the crime for which she alone was hanged on the morning of 13 July, 1955, at Holloway Prison, north London. Pachter suggested, like others before her, that Cussen provided Ellis with the gun with which she shot her violent boyfriend, and that he should therefore have been tried as an accessory.

Nor were her long-winded films, so deeply in love with their own processes, without their irritations, from the tonally jarring film clips she insisted on using to illustrate situations for which she had no images, to her bizarre and utterly pointless desire to recreate the pathetic last bedsit of Ellis’s son, Andre Hornby, who committed suicide in 1982, aged 37. Faced with certain expert “witnesses”, among them a couple of retired coppers who couldn’t have been loving their moment in the sun more if they’d been slicked with Ambre Solaire, Pachter was never anything less than wide-eyed and credulous.

What she did have, though, were some rasping old cassettes, the complicated provenance of which would take far too long to describe here. And so it was that we heard the voices of Cussen and Ellis discussing Blakely; of Hornby gently interrogating Christmas Humphreys, the counsel for the prosecution at his mother’s trial, whom he tracked down in the months before his suicide; and even of Blakely, loudly toasting the company at a party. She made maximum use of these tapes, playing them repeatedly, and it wasn’t hard to see why; if the words sometimes meant relatively little (“he’s just a little drip… a cheapskate… a skunk…” Ellis said of Blakely, perhaps only telling Cussen what he wanted to hear), the voices nevertheless spoke volumes, whole worlds conjured up in their strangulated vowels, their urgent hesitations.

Here was Ellis, a working-class woman, speaking in a painful, put-on RP. Here was Hornby, his life utterly destroyed by his mother killing the man who was then the closest thing he had to a father, trying desperately hard not to sound mad (“she lived on the borderlines of insanity,” he said of Ellis, possibly unaware that it takes one to know one). And here was Blakely, so obliviously chipper, his voice all dry gin and privilege. Ellis’s story has always reeked of Raymond Chandler: the racing driver lover, his floppy-haired beauty destroyed by bullets; that blonde hair, which she determinedly bleached again in prison ahead of her trial. Hearing them, though, all that fell away. What messes and muddles people get into. What calamities hit them, head on, like meteorites.

After a ten-year absence, Molly Dineen has returned with a documentary about Steve “Blacker Dread” Burnett-Martin (12 March, 9pm), a Brixton reggae producer. Three years in the making, it included some remarkable events in the life of this local celebrity, among them his conviction for money laundering; Dread’s dreads, uncut since he was 14, now reach to his feet and deserve a film of their own. But though I admired its intimacy, the warm and effective way Dineen mined his universe, in the end there was something self-indulgent about it, too. Like Blacker’s barber, her editor was, alas, seemingly surplus to requirements. 

The Ruth Ellis Files (BBC Four)
Being Blacker (BBC Two)

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game