Herbert Dombrowski was born in Hamburg in 1917 and started to take pictures as a high school student. He was 19 years old, when his image of SS St. Louis was published as a cover photo by »Reclams Universum«, a magazine. He had shot the image at night in the Hamburg harbor with a used Leica camera. there years later the ship gained notoriety, when it sailed to Havana where 900 Jewish refugees were denied entrance into Cuba and the United States. The ship had to turn back. More than 600 of its passengers later died in German concentration camps.
After the war Dombrowski began to work as a professional photographer. He opened up a small studio in the borough of Eppendorf, initially had assignments for a furniture store and the local organization of professional hairdressers. During the summers of 1949 and 1950 he worked as the beach photographer in Timmendorfer Strand, a resort at the Baltic Sea and learned how to deal with people as subjects.
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. »Every picture really came my way«, says Dombrowski.