How a fake war photojournalist totally fooled media organisations around the world

How a fake war photojournalist totally fooled media organisations around the world

Someone has pulled off one of the most spectacular cons in the history of photojournalism by tricking established media outlets and his 120,000+ Twitter followers into thinking that he was a conflict photographer.


"Eduardo Martins," a blond and handsome 32-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil, supposedly survived childhood leukemia to become a sought-after, accomplished war photojournalist for the UN with a passion for surfing.


His fake images of conflict in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq were delivered to agencies such as Getty Images, Zuma, and NurPhoto and published in The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, The Telegraph, and BBC Brazil.


His now-deleted Instagram profile had over 120,000 followers.


Except all of this was exposed as a lie, thanks to the attentive eye of some fellow photographers and a BBC Brazil journalist named Natasha Ribeiro.

The first suspicions


The first person to call him out was war photographer and Waves site columnist Fernando Costa Netto, who'd befriended Martins months ago and even published an article praising his work.


After receiving tip-offs from news organisations that Martins might be a fake, Netto got in touch with Martins to ask for clarification.


But the guy immediately deleted his Instagram account, his homepage and emailed Netto saying he was going into hiding:

More evidence


Another Brazilian photographer, Ignacio Aronovich, read Netto's story and started digging into this weird case, to try to understand how on earth did Martins manage to fool the world's media organisations and agencies.


In a long Facebook post, Aronovich noted how some of Martins' pictures immediately looked strange to him.

In one occasion, for instance, the photographer appears with the shutter button on the left side of the camera, while almost all types of cameras have the shutter button on the right:


So he took images from Martins' interview at Recount Magazine and just flipped them horizontally before doing a Google reverse image search. And voila. The true author of some of the photos was revealed to be the Turkey-based American photographer Daniel C. Britt:


Martins was able to get away with the reverse image search trick by cropping and mirroring the photos he lifted from other photographers. This way, he could fool news organisations who placed their trust into his work.


Quite bonkers, isn't it.

The pictures' description was also inaccurate. Photos credited as being in Aleppo, Syria, were taken by Britt some 90km away in Kafr Nabl. Another image credited as being from Azaz, Syria is from Ma'arat al-Nu'man, 126km away, Aronovich said.


But there's more, as highlighted by eagle-eyed Natasha Ribeiro of BBC Brazil.


The organisation is among those who were deceived by Martins into publishing a long profile of him based on his life story, which they've since retracted.


Among other things, Martins said people "need to see this reality," meaning the horrors of war in Iraq. 


But his words immediately raised suspicion for Ribeiro, who collaborates for BBC Brazil from the Middle East. In an investigation published Sept. 1, Ribeiro, with the help of other journalists, dug into Martins' life and couldn't find anyone who'd met him in person.


"The suspicion increased when, in Iraq, amid the war scene that Eduardo claimed to portray, Brazilian journalists realized that he was not known there," BBC Brazil reported.


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


For instance, Martins gave a story and pictures to Brazil's VICE about the battle with the Peshmerga, but two other Brazilian journalists who were with the Peshmerga during that period told the BBC they've never met him.


But there are more inconsistencies.


Back in August, the fake photographer had told BBC Brazil through WhatsApp that he was working with the United Nations.


"I am a humanitarian (volunteer) in the United Nations (UN) field. I work in the organization of refugee camps," he said.


As you can expect, no records of Martins working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees were found, as confirmed by the organisation's press chief Adrian Edwards. 


Martins even made up imaginary girlfriends, using them to communicate to journalists and somewhat add authenticity to his profile.


BBC Brazil contacted six of them who admitted to connecting to Martins only through social networks. "None of them met him personally," the site reported.


Mashable contacted NurPhoto, one of the agencies that distributed Martins' pictures, for comment.


The agency's CEO Manuel Romano said it "immediately removed all content, images, and photos that were provided by Eduardo Martins and alerted all his customers and partners to follow suit."


Romano added that the company has now filed a criminal case with Italian police against Martins. Mashable also contacted Getty Images for comment.

The real identity


So who's really the guy whose identity was stolen?


BBC Brazil identified him as 32-year-old British surfer Max Hepworth-Povey, from Cornwall.


Hepworth-Povey found out about the con job through an editor at Wavelength magazine, for whom he writes for:


"I was relaxing, sipping wine, when a friend from Wavelength magazine contacted me saying that someone has stolen my identity in a kind of a prank on internet," he said.


The surfer, who lives and works in northern Spain, near Santander, said some of the pictures are from an old Facebook profile that he disabled some two years ago.


"When my friend showed me the pictures, I thought it was a joke, but actually my photos were stolen," Hepworth-Povey, who has deleted his Instagram account, said. "It's crazy that some random guy decided to use my image while there are some many options throughout the Internet."


He added that he hates the idea of "glamourising a country at war" as the conman did.