Herbert Dombrowski (1917-2010) was a German photographer.
Dombrowski was born in Hamburg in 1917 and began to take pictures as a high-school student. He was 19 when he went to the Hamburg port at night to photograph the SS St. Louis. The image, taken with a used Leica camera, was published on the cover of Reclams Universum, a popular illustrated magazine. Three years later the ship’s name became synonymous for the plight of German Jews, when it carried 900 refugees who were barred from entering Cuba and the United States and had to return to Europe. The ordeal took 50 days. More than 600 of the SS St. Louis passengers later died in concentration camps.
After the war Herbert Dombrowski started a career as a professional photographer. He opened a small studio in the Hamburg neighborhood of Eppendorf and began to work for a furniture store and the local hairdresser’s guild. During 1949 and 1950 he made money by taking pictures of beachgoers in Timmendorfer Strand, a seaside resort on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and learnt how to interact with people directly.
Aside from extensive assignments such as a documentary of all of the old housing stock in the borough of Altona for Neue Heimat, the owner of a huge number of apartment buildings (1953-1956), he developed a journalistic eye for regular people in their daily surroundings. He shot images of shipyard workers and ships in Hamburg harbor, female spectators at the race tracks in their elegant dresses, men at the stock exchange, people in the streets, in market places such the Fischmarkt or in the district of St. Pauli.
He photographed for Hamburger Journal, Stern Magazine and the news weekly Der Spiegel. „I got into Stern because of a series of photos I had a shot at Ballhaus Jahnke in St. Pauli – at a dance hall. There I took pictures of sailors and hookers“, Dombrowski said. Editor-in-chief Henri Nannen was enthusiastic and published the series.
In the sixties his style was discovered by advertising agencies. He worked successfully for companies such as VW, BMW and ESSO. He retired in 1985. He died in May 2010 at the age of 93.