Meet Donald Lee Hudson, also known as Homeless Don or HD.
We moved to Richmond, CA in 2003 and shortly after, noticed Homeless Don would periodically walk by the house. New to Richmond and aware of its perceived reputation, seeing a homeless guy walk by on a regular basis had us wondering if we bought in the right place. Still here today and LOVE Richmond!
I spent a lot of time outside working on the house and in the process, got to know Homeless Don. He had been doing yard work for a few of the neighbors for over 15 years. That explained why he would walk by so often.I eventually hired him to help with stuff like pulling weeds and staining the fence.
A couple years later, I was working on a project buying signs from homeless people that morphed into taking their portrait and framing it along with the sign. That led to me asking HD if he would pose for some shots.That’s when he became my homeless model for hire. I had him on the street and alongside the house doing various poses and also got close-ups of his hands. The next time we shot, I had him pose along our fence holding one of the signs I collected. It read, “Visions Of A Cheese Berger”. The next shoot is where things took an interesting turn.
Our front yard is landscaped with cactus and succulent-filled bathtub, wheelbarrow, wagon and colorful toilets. Friends of ours were remodeling their bathroom and I asked if I could have their retro blue toilet and joked thatI was going to have HD pose with his pants down on it in the front yard and print it for them. The time came, and a few minutes before I was about to shoot HD on the toilet, my wife Melissa told me she felt like this was exploiting him. It made me think twice for a second. Before we shot, I asked HD if he felt like he was being exploitedor forced into doing it.No. Do you want to shoot? He replied, “Does a bear shit in the woods, Don?”. Next stop,Facebook, his image published in three books, and fame. Not for me. For him.
I began introducing Homeless Don into my FB feed starting with images and eventually videos of him delivering messages to “you dumb-ass Facebook bitches”as he used to call everyone. Enter – his fans. He’s loved on FB. I have to feed the machine. HD points out that he only has one more tooth left. I shoot it, super impose Jesus on the tooth, add blurb and post. I’m walking through Target and see adult sized Spiderman underwear. Homeless Don Spiderman underwear shoot promotion begins on the spot. The shoot happens and images make there way to FB.
The subject of exploitation came up again and led to an interesting discussion. Is it art? Is it exploiting the homeless? In short time it became a commentary on the effects of social media. Overall, the outcome was positive.