If you have ever stopped to look at those big photos outside of the Town Hall Council Chamber, you have experienced Wayne Dombkowski's work. Before digital, before personal computers, Dombkowski was here in Windsor, taking pictures, developing and creating art with his camera.
Dombkowski has been photographing Windsor for decades. A photographer's photographer, Dombkowski has 37 years in the business. Raised in Windsor, he became interested in cameras as a teen, and once he graduated from Windsor High School in 1973, went on to pursue a degree from Rhode Island School of Photography. He also met his wife Evelyn in Windsor's tobacco fields.
In his office, Dombkowski displays an impressive collection of cameras; some old, some antiques, some novelty. But his real work still happens in a camera, not within the walls of the high-tech computer equipment he sits next to.
"I like going back to raw stuff, where it's crude," he said. Dombkowski still likes to shoot pictures by developing the scene in his viewfinder, almost to perfection.
"I still try to think about it as film. The less I can do [in the computer] the better."
But he is also a long-time believer in taking advantage of technology when it's needed. He has "used a Macintosh since the beginning," and refers to it as an "old hat" now.
Dombkowski has photographed many different subjects. As the sole Connecticut Forum photographer for fourteen years, he was able to meet many interesting people such as Florence Henderson, Ed Asner and Flip Wilson. He has photographed Bob Weir of Grateful Dead fame and Trey Anastasio of Phish. He has taken shots of Walter Kronkite, fashion consultant Tim Gunn and Benazir Bhutto before she was assassinated. His main client now is Connecticut Magazine.
What makes him so sought after? Dombkowski said he was taught from a young age to be friendly and nice. This simple life lesson has helped him translate an outgoing, engaging personality into opportunity as a photographer.
"I was lucky enough to be born to my mother," he said. "I took from her to be outgoing and friendly. I guess it's kind of 'old school'," he said.
While this approach usually pays off, he has had more than one suprisingly down-to-earth conversation with mega-stars. Sometimes, it doesn't matter how nice you are.
"Alec Baldwin was the most difficult person I ever photographed," said Dombkowski. "I tried to be as nice as I could to him."
And then, here in Windsor, residents have seen him photographing the Chili Fest, parades, Shad Derby events, weddings and portraits. "I remember doing a job for the Wilson Fire Department," said Dombkowski, "500 sepia toned prints."
He also tries to focus on the artistic nature of his prints. "I try to keep my mind open so I stay creative," he said. "I am constantly trying ways to be more creative and look for something that hasn't been done before," he said. Photographing people is his love. "There are no two identical subjects," he said.
He remembers one project called "A Day In The Life Of Windsor," where he walked around Windsor and shot for 20 straight hours. "I started at the Donut Shop and photographed every character, every person that roamed the streets of Windsor," said Dombkowski.
Despite Windsor changing in some ways over the last few decades, Dombkowski says it's "still got a strong core to it — people that never leave here."