Brandon Cabral is a man full of surprises.

Well-known for his evocative portraits of New Bedford urban life on Instagram, the first discovery is something of a shock.

Though he uses the tools of the social media age to share his work, he shoots entirely on ... film. Yep — good, old fashioned rolls of film.

And, he develops most of his work himself, in a home darkroom. Believe it or not, he’s only 32-years-old, too. Which means he largely grew up during a time when digital became the norm and mediums like film, vinyl and celluloid began to go by the wayside.

Finally, this passion for photography on film as practiced by Vivian Maier or Ansel Adams only entered Brandon’s life in 2014.

It’s been a prolific few years. His photography arguably defines him right now, and that Instagram feed (@Cabralism) has over 3,300 posts and 2,400 followers. For many, their introduction to the man is through his images.

A selection of those images will be on display in a two-person show called “Dwelling” that opens on Thursday, July 12 during AHA! New Bedford at the Co-Creative Center at 137 Union Street.

It’s at the Co-Creative Center where Brandon arrives to discuss his work with his three children in tow. Not the three children he’s raising on Cottage Street, New Bedford with his long-time girlfriend. They range in age from eight years down to six months.

His other babies are called Canon, Asahi Pentax and Graflex Crown Graphic — and the oldest reaches the age of about 70 years, give or take a decade.

They are the cameras Brandon takes with him when he scours the city for subjects or interesting spaces. The 35mm Canon is probably familiar to most readers, the Graflex the most exotic. It’s a large-format camera — the kind used by Ansel Adams for his majestic pictures of the American West. Brandon just trains its lens on the inner-city East.

Mostly in his hands is the medium format Pentax. It’s the type of camera favored by fashion photographers, and Cabral has used it to fashion his own distinct style based on subject matter (mostly New Bedford and its residents); composition; and technical mastery of the possibilities of using actual film.

He prefers film because he thinks it’s something “tangible” — and likens his body of work to a journal. That isn’t a surprise; he was was an English major for a while at UMass Dartmouth before eventually attending Bristol Community College to get his associate’s degree in psychology.

He put that degree to good use for 10 years as a women’s addiction counselor, and now employs it in his position as a probation officer in Brockton.

Like his photography, he loves his job and lights up when he discusses the hard work of convincing clients that what they are going through is “an opportunity — not a punishment.”

He says he “loves communication” — and it’s the foundation he has built his career on. Both during his day job, and the pursuit of his own aesthetic through photography.

In the process, he is communicating the truth of the city he was born and grew up in as he finds it.

Brandon Cabral’s work is elegiac and revelatory. It exposes everyday life yet hints at so much more. Cabral engages with his subjects — and it shows through in the images. He always asks permission to take someone’s picture; that begins the dialogue with a subject. It’s something he says he learned from studying the habits of Brooklyn’s famed street photographer, Jamel Shabazz.

He shares with people the knowledge that there is “a reason I want to catch you” on film. It’s creation out of necessity. “I wouldn’t feel like myself if I didn’t do it,” Cabral says of the act of photography in general.

In total, he shoots about three days a week most weeks, yet sometimes is out every day when life allows. His routine involves a Saturday morning stop for a haircut on Allen Street. Then, it’s off to find what catches his eye for the better part of the weekend.

---

One of the first things that caught his eye when he took up photography was the old New Bedford sign on the former Building 19. The sign, as well as the building, are gone now. And while he doesn’t intentionally looks for moments that capture New Bedford, he’s happy when such a moment resonates with viewers.

There are many of them. Cabral is attracted to the city’s people and architecture — it’s human and built spaces — and that shows through in his work.

Some of it was featured alongside the text to a short play written by Nick LeBlanc, called “What’s Next?” It was published by the city’s independent publisher, Domesticated Primate a couple of years ago — not so long after Brandon had discovered his new vocation.

A quick study, he realized that dropping off rolls of film at CVS to develop wasn’t going to cut it for him. So, he found K-Ellis Photocenter in North Dartmouth — and his own personal photographic Jedi Master in owner Ken Ellis who helped bring him up to Graflex speed.

Though Cabral now prints his own black and white work, he uses K-Ellis for his color printing and relies on the center for invaluable finds — like the outdated film which helps him achieve his unique style.

Part of that style involves ... dust. He leaves the dust on his negatives to give his prints a tactile feel. It has become a hallmark of his work.

For “Dwelling” opening on July 12 with a public reception from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Co-Creative Center, Cabral’s prints will be paired with the architectural sculpture of Boston-based artist Kate Benson.

Accordingly, he and curator Dena Haden have carefully culled 10 prints from Brandon’s collection which reflect the built and human environment of New Bedford.

And — final surprise — Brandon Cabral has created his first set of digital images — though from his film work — for the show. (Prints will be available for sale throughout the run of “Dwellings” through August 9 — the next AHA! New Bedford evening in the city.)

Brandon Cabral likes to say “you never know when the moment arises” when he’s out looking at New Bedford through his lens.

But this is certain: photographer Brandon Cabral is having a moment right now that’s good to see.

 

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.