Catch me if you can: the mysterious case of Eduardo Martins

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Directed by the acclaimed director and filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and with Leonardo DiCaprio taking the main role, Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 American biographical crime film based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. 

Fast forward to 2017 and here we have what probably is one of the biggest cons in the very history of photojournalism. 

"Eduardo Martins" began his trajectory in 2014 and it didn't take long for him to amass an incredible number of Instagram followers, which included international publications, magazines, National Geographic photographers and international development agencies.

When not covering conflicts in the Middle East or humanitarian crisis in Africa, the handsome war photographer could be found surfing, playing with his dog, doing yoga, helping children in need as an official UNHCR volunteer, supporting kids in Gaza through a project he had developed himself or posing as a model for articles and interviews about his life. Having survived abuses in his childhood and a leukemia, he had found in photography the mission of his life.

His success was meteoric. In less than three years, he managed to build a solid Instagram following (over 127 thousand always-engaged fans), got his pictures published in some of the most important publications in the world, and seduced six (or who knows how many more) beautiful, successful Brazilian women. It was just a matter of time before we could see his pictures receiving awards and his work being celebrated by galleries around the world.

There was just one problem: it was all a lie.  

"Eduardo Martins", as such, does not exist.  

By the time he deleted all his social media channels, just before Natasha Ribeiro from BBC broke the story, "Eduardo Martins" had over 127k Instagram followers.

By the time he deleted all his social media channels, just before Natasha Ribeiro from BBC broke the story, "Eduardo Martins" had over 127k Instagram followers.

The blond surfer on the pictures? That's Max Hepworth-Povey, a British surfer now living in Spain.

The conflict images he was posting? As of now, we know that some had been stolen from American photographer Daniel C. Britt, and then manufactured on Photoshop. It is still unclear who actually made the other pictures we could find on his Instagram feed.  

He first sent me a private message on Instagram in 2014. He said he was going to be in Siem Reap soon and asked me if I wanted to join him there. I was busy with work in Phnom Penh at the time so I couldn't make it. "Next time", I told him. Now I keep thinking: what if I had gone to Siem Reap? Who would I have found? Most certainly no one...

I remember in 2015 his IG suddenly disappeared. After a few weeks, it was live again. "Someone had hacked my account", he told me. Quite a possible thing to happen for someone covering such delicate issues, I innocently thought. 

The last time we spoke was in June. He said he was in LA and asked me for my number. He told me he was coming back to California soon and he wanted to come visit me here in San Diego. He even gave me his phone number (which had an US area code) and we indeed talked a bit on WhatsApp once. 

On his last posts on Instagram before he deleted it, he was on vacation in Australia, traveling in a van and catching waves on remote beaches. 

Probably growing wary of the mounting suspicion and questions being asked, he deleted his IG account, his website and his WhatsApp.

"Hey bro. I'm in Australia. I made the decision of spending a year travelling around the world in a van. I will cut off everything, including the internet, and I deleted my IG [Instagram]," he wrote. I want to be [left] in peace. We'll speak again when I'm back. Hugs.", he told Fernando Costa Neto, a Brazilian photographer and owner of a gallery in Sao Paulo who was in touch with him about an exhibition. 

We have now answers for a few questions.

We know that "Eduardo Martins" was not the blond man in the pictures, and we know that he was not the author of the pictures he was posting online. 

But many other questions remain answered as of now:

1. Who, in fact, is "Eduardo Martins"? Is that even his real name? Who is behind this 3 years long (!!!) meticulously fabricated story that fooled thousands of fans worldwide, deceived some of the most important media outlets in the world and broke the hearts of many women in Brazil, and perhaps in other countries too? 

2. Is he indeed a man? Or could he be actually a woman? Or perhaps a group of people? Considering all the work and effort behind the plot, I wouldn't be surprised if he was actually the latter. 

3. Why? To prove a point about the state of media and society these days? To make money out of it? To simply have fun? Or was it the psychotic work of a mastermind? 

4. Who are the real authors of the other conflict pictures? 

5. Why specifically the face of Max Hepworth-Povey?  

There seems to be an investigation to try to catch "Eduardo Martins" so perhaps we will have the answers for these questions soon...I will be following this story closely!

Here some observations and curiosities:

  • His story lasted for almost three years! He even created and managed other fake accounts that were always engaging with his, in order to give himself more authenticity;
  • He was followed by world-renowned photographers such as the master David Alan Harvey;
  • His photographs appeared on the pages of publications such as The New York Times, BBC, Vice, Le Mond and Al Jazeera.
  •  He sold himself as a UNHCR volunteer but no records with that name can be found in the organization.
  • He was never seen by the organization he said he was photographing for in Africa.
  • He even created a second website, apart from his personal one, for a project he had created in Gaza, through which he was teaching surf for kids and using the profits from the pictures he was selling to support their basic needs.
  • His personal website was registered through a company in Florida that protects the personal information of the person who registered the page so we don't have access to them. I am not aware if they are required to disclose that information in case of a crime, I would think so...
  • He had a virtual relationship with least six Brazilian women, and even sent them flowers on a regular basis! I remember even seeing one of them saying "I love you and I miss you" to him. None of them had ever met him in person!
  • Not only he lied about the authorship of the images he was posting, he also lied about their contexts and factual information. 
  • He was really active and engaged on Instagram. He seemed to used all the so-called techniques to gain more followers, and I was often surprised to see was commenting on pictures of close friends of mine that only share more personal pictures. 
  • He was often featured by the renowned Lens Culture and he was allegedly shooting with a Leica Q (I remember him showing it in one of his posts).   
  • It seems he offered his pictures for free for many magazines, but Getty was selling some of "his" images through website. Do they have his records and personal information? He was allegedly selling his pictures and reverting the profits to help the kids in Gaza. Has he actually sold any? If so, where did the money go to? 
  • In most parts of the world we need to give our personal information when getting a SimCard, so wouldn't they have his information? 

I could go on and on with this list as the more I think about it the more shocked I am with this whole story....

Considering everything I have just mentioned, I think the person behind this did it all to prove a point about the state of news today, our society and social media. Someone who wanted to expose how "easy" it actually is (well, he put a lot of time and work into it) to create a virtual persona in times of social media (when virtual life seems to be more important than the real one). He also exposed the fragilities of even the most notorious news outlets, which published the work of a photographer that doesn't even exist.  

War photographers do not get millionaire and he was offering his pictures for free, so it doesn't seem it was for the money. (Perhaps a it was all part of a Netflix documentary that will be released soon!)

But again, who knows....maybe it is someone who just wanted to have fun while living a virtual life...

I am really curious to see the face(s) of the person(s) behind this and I do hope they will manage to catch him/her/them so we can have answers for the questions I shared here, and for many others.

I will be following this case with special attention and I will update this post whenever more information comes up...

Saludos!

Bernardo