I didn’t know too much about Toulouse or Europe but everything hit me right at all times. It boxed me with an unending flurry of new sights, sounds, and put me through a beautiful ringer. My cousin Vanessa had planned the trip. The cheapest one. There were many places to visit for cheap, but we ended up settling on quiet, beautiful Toulouse.

We recited our French phrases in the plane. I had started practicing early a couple nights before due to fear and giddy excitement and it helped if only a little. Vanessa knew some french already, being from London she had the option of choosing European languages early in school as most there did. 

Learning bits of another language was tough, and it didn’t stick unless you really practiced it, but at that point it wasn’t about knowing the phrase but having the confidence. To look in the eye of a Frenchman or mademoiselle and speak their tongue and smile and to try to feel it without stumbling was all that I was concerned with. Let me mess up a word or a sentence but keep my eyes and soul to the human being in front of me.

The airport was a frenzy, as most airports and train stations in Europe were. Waves of people swarmed about incessantly and made the collective noise of some cacophonous symphony of mixed dialect. It was all quick. But I was slow, not being used to having to place all my liquids in a clear bag.

I got to know Vanessa well during all the waiting around. She has been my only close cousin in Europe and the fascination of her accent and difference in culture kept me to her since meeting a decade ago. We had similar demeanors and there was alway  a warmness between us. Solid family to travel with.


The air stung us with coldness as we stepped out of the airport. It was still early but Vanessa and I had a lot to do and see. Trying to take the bus out of the hotel was difficult as the cold rushed into our blood. Vanessa knew her way around and was smart so I’m thankful she was there, we took the right bus.

We stayed at the Hotel Ibis Toulouse Gare Matabiau, a quaint, beautiful hotel that sat across the Matabiau Train Station, one of the first of many beautiful train stations I would marvel at. Europe put the states to shame even in their train stations. They looked like our state capitols.

The first things I noticed were the people and how they moved and dressed with a different grace, a better one. And they moved with their grace along their ornate streets and alleys and town squares and they belonged like a painting on a wall.

Toulouse was not the most popular destination. It was still quiet and the kind of place where you would only see one or two tourists in restaurants and only locals most everywhere else. This made the place more real and it was a stark contrast to Paris where the droves of tourists seemed to wash out the streets.

We walked and I feasted on the buildings. I searched for restaurants on Yelp and was surprised and put at ease as a needy American that there were many well-reviewed options. I found a brasserie, four stars, Le Pyreneen.


It would be the most overwhelmingly beautiful restaurant that I would go to during my entire trip in Europe. The ceilings and the tables were decorative and artful. Stained glass and warmly lit chandeliers above and the mirrors made the small restaurant appear larger.

The waiter blasted us with kindness upon entering. “Bounjour” we said. "Un whiskey, s'il vous plaît” I said. Everybody inside was French. We explained that we were tourists, the only ones in the room, but the waiter was kind and welcoming. He swooped his hair frequently as he traveled back and forth bringing food and wine to the locals. He smiled revealing smoked pearls and laughed and swooped away as he bantered with fellow French.

We decided on the seafood, French seafood. I was excited. Being from Hawaii where I’ve had my fair share of tuna I couldn’t resist trying it’s classier French counterpart. Vanessa had French prawns on a salad and I had a French tuna, the biggest most generous slab of fish I’d ever been served all to myself. It was served with glorious bread and butter, better than the states again.

I dug into the obnoxiously-sized tuna and Vanessa raved about the equally large prawns. The meal was saucy and had character. We became full fast but I tried to finish the large cut. I don’t remember if I did.

We thanked the waiter, the solid good waiter.

We walked further, all around, got lost at times. Saw things. A haunting red sculpture of a child sitting beneath a bridge. An old, shirtless man scaling a brick wall, a few feet up and was excited and grinned as he reached for a new brick. Spectators marveled at both and moved on.

The air was a cold 40 degrees and the chills came and went. Vanessa was buried up to her ears in a large scarf for most of the day. But we braved it to make most of the day. 

We visited the many cathedral museums which consisted of most museums there. They were large and ancient and looming and quiet. Inside most of the galleries were stone sculptures and each church had a lush courtyard surrounded by thick pillars with wells in the center.

We tried the tea, we split a lemon tart which was the best of my life. I still dream of that tart.


It became dark and the streets lit up. We got lost again. But to be lost in Toulouse was to be lost within a dream, a painting. The ground and the buildings were slightly wet and reflected the lights after a small rain. It’s all true what they say about France at night. It’s true what they say about going to Europe. The light parted with the sky and it became a different place, an entirely new glowing city and I devoured it as hungrily as I did in the morning.

Before going to dinner we saw a tremendous swarm of birds, people stopped and marveled at it as they did with the shirtless old man. We did too, it was the biggest swarm I’ve seen. The swarm went back and forth, disappeared into the trees. I waited for a few minutes in the cold for them to get a proper photo.


At the hotel we changed and had a quick drink before dinner. The hotel clerk doubled as the bartender to the miniature bar a dozen feet away. He was happy to get us a drink. Many people were kind, smiled, and were happy that day. Maybe it’s because I was a lost dreamy tourist, or maybe it was a travel beginner’s luck.

I chose champagne to celebrate the day, to celebrate having the experience and good company, good family. The bartender clerk poured the small, strong bottle into fine glasses and taught us a phrase, “Viva la famille!” The drink was a bit pricy, we learned, and it stung our ears to hear the price. But Viva la famille, as the good man said. Vanessa ended up footing the bill. Solid family.

The day was art – Toulouse was a masterpiece. I walked along it, got lost in it, fell onto it with my eyes, ears and I spoke to it’s people and am forever better from it.

Vanessa would leave back for London the next day and I would be off to Paris by myself. I went for the phone to practice the phrases for the Parisians. 

A couple weeks ago I went back to Hawaii for a family wedding after a long six months of trying to hustle as much as I can. Ever since I moved to San Francisco I had some insecurity and fear that I wouldn't be able to show my face back home if I didn't accomplish enough. But, luckily, I was able to accomplish enough these past six months to feel like I deserved to enjoy myself back home for a bit. And I realize now that it's so pointless to be worried about those fears.

In these past six months I've worked on set for companies like Google, Twitter, and Thumbtack and I have photographed many beautiful, inspiring individuals. I've even had the pleasure of shooting over a dozen weddings and proposals. There's a good artistic community here and I've never had this much support from so many people in my life. Every person I've worked with and has taken the time to interview and hire me has been so giving and nice to me. I couldn't be more grateful.

It's hard to keep pushing, especially since I'm living on my own, but at least I know I made the right choice moving here and I can honestly say that this is the most motivated and hard-working I've been in my entire life. It would be a crime to stop now.

Amongst all of this stress, fear, and rejection I've been facing trying to grow as a photographer in San Francisco, this trip reminded me that there are always beautiful experiences waiting in store. Pictured above is Lucy. I made it a point to not work during my vacation but she reached out to me a day before I arrived saying that she was currently looking at my Glazers coffee shop gallery and told me she liked my work. I was so touched because she was the first person really to go out of their way to compliment my gallery. I had to make time to photograph her. It was a beautiful time back home. Now to get back to work.

Sidenote: I received such an unexpected outpouring of love from this post. Thank you.

A six-month journey of love


San Francisco – so far

SF blog: So far, my experience in San Francisco has been beautifully surreal. Even though I moved here in November, it only feels like I moved recently because I just got back from spending 10 days in Oahu for the holidays.

I can confidently say that San Francisco has been treating me well thus far. I left Hawaii for new adventures and opportunities and that's what I've been getting. Right off the bat, I've been lucky enough to connect with some very professional and like-minded creative people. It's been tough restarting — rebuilding a network and putting myself out there all over again — but it's worth everything because I'm doing what I want to do and I'm getting better.

Just today, I had an amazing, serendipitous experience. After a meeting, I took a walk around union square and stumbled upon this photography art gallery – SF Art Exchange. I ended up spending an hour speaking to the owner and the employees and just picked their brains about art.

Pictured above is Kirstie – not my first model in San Francisco but my first model of 2017 and at my home studio. Couldn't have asked for a better model to test my new studio strobe with. The shot was a 2.5 second exposure (no photoshop). We actually tried to mimic an inspiration photo but ended up with something way better.


Moving to San Francisco

A photo posted by Ben Decastro (@bendcstr) on

A few days ago I left Hawaii and moved to San Francisco.

This year I was lucky enough to build and maintain relationships with hard-working, inspiring individuals. I was offered a part-time photography position at a startup company. While I work for the company, I'll be opening up a photography studio where I'll be living.

I would like to thank every single one of you for following me up to this point. Whether you hit the like or comment button, or simply looked at one of my photos and felt something — anything — that is good enough for me.

This journey, the pursuit of vision and expression I'm on, has taken me on a roller coaster. I'm going to continue on this ride because it's the only ride that makes sense taking and gives me meaning. I'm learning that when you put time and energy into something – whether it's art, your job or even a loved one, make sure that thing takes you on a ride. And make sure you become a better person in some way after that ride. Expressing myself through writing and photography has undoubtedly done that for me.

Pictured above is a photo of my gallery at Glazers Coffee in Honolulu. I installed the gallery a few nights ago with the help of Sam Han, the cafe's owner. Sam stayed up with me into the late hours of the night and was incredibly helpful. I'm grateful to have left my mark at this particular coffee shop because if never found it, I would not be heading to San Francisco and pursuing my dreams right now. Please check my gallery out and say hi to Sam for me!

I hope that I am encouraging every single one of you to keep opening yourselves up to others and pushing your limits daily. There are gems out there that you can't afford to be missing. Keep expressing. Keep creating. I'm sure as hell going to do that. If you continue on this roller coaster with me, I promise that I will share increasingly better work. Work that will hopefully change something in you for the better.

So to end, please feel free to connect with me. Since I'll be rebuilding my client base, I would be grateful if you would pass my name along or connect me with anybody in San Francisco or California. Thank you all so much for the love and thanks for reading!!


That one time my photo was featured on Instagram's @music page

Monthly Hashtag Project: #MHPinstrumental The goal of this month’s hashtag project is to make photos and videos that celebrate the tools of the music trade. From pianos to didgeridoos, show us the most surprising sources of music you can find and share. Seek out local musicians or friends and make a still or video portrait of them playing. If you’re going to a concert, try getting up close to the stage to photograph a whole band in action. And, get creative! Look around for instrument makers. Visit a music shop or classroom to capture instruments in a variety of contexts. PROJECT RULES: Please add the #MHPinstrumental hashtag only to photos and videos taken this month and only submit your own. Any tagged visual taken this month is eligible to be featured. If you use music in your video submissions, please only use music to which you own the rights. Photo by @bendcstr

A photo posted by @music (@music) on

This feature took me by surprise on a lazy morning. Seeing the notification from @music was like seeing a mirage – except it ended up being real. The photo that was featured is one of the photos I am best known for: my photo of the band Streetlight Cadence.

What was interesting about this feature was that I didn't submit the photo to anybody. The photo itself has almost three times as many likes as my other photos with more than 1,300 likes so maybe that would explain how they found my photo better. Still, the photo was taken more than a year before it was featured. Maybe there's somebody at instagram looking out for me or maybe it was just plain old luck. Whatever it was was, it was encouragement and an epic sign from the universe telling me that I should keep going. Thank you Instagram!

Pursuit of Portrait's first print issue

“Hideaway” - Thank you @bendcstr; a Oahu-based photographer for this shot of @eunjipaulakim via #pursuitofportraits

A photo posted by Pursuit of Portraits (@pursuitofportraits) on

Getting featured on this account was amazing. The founder, Saunak Shah, reached out to me shortly after the featuring saying that he wanted to place this image in Pursuit of Portrait's first print issue – what an honor that was. Learn more about Saunak's movement here: http://www.pursuitofportraits.com/


2016 New York trip

Now that I'm back in Hawaii, I'll be writing about my experience in New York through multiple Instagram posts. Last year was a whirlwind of realization, progression, application, and learning. Now that I'm transitioning to find new work and ways to improve my art, I feel a great pressure within me to maintain a steady progression. So in other words, I decided to take this trip in the name of bravery and adulthood, and it has played a large part of my Bildungsroman. Part 1: I was terribly afraid of going to New York by myself. Even though I've done a lot of traveling recently, this was my first solo trip that I took to a place that's such a stark contrast to Hawaii. I arrived on Dec. 30. I had a two hour commute to drop my things off to my friend Rodrigo, whom I've known from Hawaii. He was generous enough to let me stay with him and his roommate for the week. Rodrigo had a rough work schedule so I only saw him a few times during my stay, though the times I did spend time with him were epic (like getting to see Louis CK in the Comedy Cellar). Thanks to my long-running involvement in the #vsco community, I was able to meet up with talented, young creatives. The first one I met was my long-time Instagram friend @angelesnicole who took me around Brooklyn in the Bushwick area to show me some great graffiti. Nicole is a worldly individual. She came to New York at a young age and has been leading a creative, adventurous life ever since. Her energy was palpable and I felt it more when she talked about her travels and her experiences, like when she went to burning man. I hung out with her and her two friends on the first day. She also saw me off the day before my flight. I was taken aback by her openness an her ability to be present even after working a graveyard shift. The energy of New York enveloped me entirely – from riding the subways, being among peers, to simply being a part of the daily, incessant motion. My first day was so overwhelming that it didn't matter that I was running on zero sleep because I was constantly being refilled by the atmosphere radiating from the concrete backdrops and the rivers of people flowing through every street. To be continued.

A photo posted by Ben Decastro (@bendcstr) on

NY blog Part II: There was something about the New York winter that made stepping into cozy shops quickly feel like home. After spending the afternoon hanging out with Nicole, I had one of the most interesting interactions of my life at Think Coffee. I’ve known @janechu since my tumblr days years ago and we have been following each other ever since. I sat across the coffee table from her in awe. Those Tumblr days were intense. It was overwhelming meeting somebody that has read many of my adolescent musings. The more I thought about the length of time I knew her, the more I felt like by today’s standards we knew each other well. During Tumblr’s apex of popularity, blogging was more intimate and I felt that people collectively wrote more/old people rant. Jane and I spent the rest of the evening with her friend Rachel in Chinatown. It was great to experience Chinatown with Jane since she spoke Mandarin. Also, Rachel was a fellow comedy nerd so it was a beautiful time. I think I caught Jane at a good time, it seemed, because I ended up seeing her for a couple more days. On Jan. 3 we met up for brunch. I met her friends Stan and Joan. It’s true that good people will introduce you to more good people. Stan is an inspiring guy who gave me valuable life advice and Joan is a damn good photographer that I will be talking about in the next part of my blog. On the third and last day that I met up with Jane, I had possibly the greatest karaoke experience of my life. I’m so glad that I met her. One valuable lesson that was reinforced constantly during my trip is that you should always be open to sharing experiences with people. Whether it’s a cup of coffee or karaoke, you get what you put in. I think that most of the time you get something beautiful. I opened myself as much as I could in one week and I had the experience of a lifetime in return. Thanks Jane!!

A photo posted by Ben Decastro (@bendcstr) on


New direction