Art forgery in the XXI century

Eduardo Martins is no Wolfgang Beltracchi, but the truth is he managed to turn himself into a heroish-like-photojournalist. Regarding the substance of what was being created, there’s no similarities between Beltracchi and Martins, as the first was and is an extremely gifted technician and Martins just sounds like a sociopath, verging on the psychopath.

No one knows if we’ll ever find out who the person behind this hoax is, but I’d say based on his idea of heroism, he’s seen too many Hollywood movies. Eduardo stole several identities (some that we know of, some we don’t), but the most obvious one is surfer’s Max Hepworth-Povey, for that was the face and, in part, the lifestyle, he chose to adopt. Curiously enough, Max is the first to admit that “what the guy did is really impressive. His dedication is unbelievable“. I agree. As we now know, this con artist had been planning this for a long time, for Max now recounts how once, in 2014, a man had approach him via fecebook and had managed to chat with him via skype. Apparently, it was during that episode that the con artist stole video footage of Max, that he then reproduced in interviews via skype, with news agencies and what not. During this skype calls something was recurrent: bad internet connection, so that only a few seconds of “Eduardo’s face” appeared on screen. It’s amazing that it took 2/3 years to recognize the true authorship of the photographs he’d been stealing

What attracts me now is the choices he made, namely the story he chose for himself and the pictures he chose to illustrate that story. For instances, in an interview set up with photographer Nina Keller, for M Journal, back in 2015, I’m particularly drawn to one of the photographs he chose to illustrate his persona: a portrait of Max, against a tropical background, with the light outshining his blue eyes, an overall summery look, a cap reading ‘OBEY’ and a serpent around his neck. “Eduardo’s” modus operandi was to make some changes in the photographs that would prevent anyone from finding the original (for example when searching in google images). Sometimes he simply flipped them horizontally, others he manipulated with photoshop; on this one someone seems to have been cropped out of the image.

portrait of Max Hepworth-Povey, appropriated by “Eduardo Martins”

Going through Max’s Instagram, I can see the appeal “Eduardo” might have seen. It looks like Max lives a very adventurous life and that he surrounds himself with a lot of love, a lot of humanity, beautiful nature and animals. I kept trying to find the original snake portrait, but failed. I wanted to see what he cropped out of the image, but my focus really is to understand what this image communicates. Max himself said that he’s surprised that of all of the people out here, he decided to steal his iddentity. Yes, that’s really the core for me as well. What is it about this particularly image that somehow references the qualities “Eduardo” wanted for his persona? Maybe the cap, reading OBEY, suggests the guy is “on trend” and “in control”; maybe the handling of the snake accentuated the idea that he’s fearless; maybe the way the light delineates his belly evokes a sense of pleasure and well-being; maybe…

So let’s go back to the substance of the entire hoax, i.e., the narrative. So the story “Eduardo” told was that we was a man in his 30’s who had been abused as a kid, and had survived leukemia, with which he lived for about 10 years, since he was 18. The story of the illness was probably stolen from another profile he stumbled upon, but why was it important? Well, because it helps build an heroic narrative for himself. The rest goes like this: “Eduardo” survived leukemia, traveled the world and then he “found himself” in humanitarian work, helping others and that is where photography comes in. He then decided to be a “fake war hero”: being a war photographer we could tell his story, still surf, still look pretty, and not get his hands dirty. He just needed to still some photographs and make people believe that after surviving his battle with cancer, he was fearless and he just wanted to expose “the horrors of war“. It’s a shame that we’re not given an ending to this epic drama. What was his plan? Would he have been killed by a jihadist and become a martyr? Or, instead, would he just get attacked by a shark when surfing in Australia? It’s difficult not to be sarcastic… “Eduardo” disappeared before BBC Brasil came out with the story, because Fernando Costa Netto, who had fallen for “Eduardo’s” hoax, texted him saying people were suspecting he might be a fake, to which “Eduardo” replied that he was going away for a year, travelling and he was disconnecting from internet. 

Daniel C. Britt is one of the identified authors from the photographs “Eduardo” appropriated. As photographer Jan Nicolas wrote, on Peta Pixel, “Martins not only lifted the photos and republished them as his own, but he went to great lengths to alter the images to make them hard to identify through reverse image searches — many of the images were cropped and mirrored.”

Regarding the photographs he appropriated from professional photographers, they pose a double mystery for me: 1) they’re uninteresting and vulgar (why choose them); 2) they were being sold by Getty Images for about 500€. How can Getty survive this mess? Of course it can. They only need to blame someone else. That’s what everyone does in this situations and so they did, stating that “Eduardo Martins … was identified as a collaborator and content supplier for one of our partners who has already been notified about this infraction” to which they added that “While we work together with all our internal departments to urgently clarify this issue, we are removing all the material involved from the air.”

a phograph from Daniel C. Britt, stolen by “Eduardo Martins” and promoted by Getty Images

Not that there’s a man hunt for “Eduardo Martins”, I’m sure more people will come out and tell stories about their brief virtual encounters with him, so I’ll try and keep this updated.

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