Photographer Christelle de Castro on her big break in the Big Apple.

I came to New York City without a plan.

I was throwing art shows in San Francisco while waitressing at a diner, but I wanted to see my work in magazines and to make something of myself. My best friend Nicole, who was then designing for Opening Ceremony, was like:

Dude, cut the bullshit; you need to move to New York.

Immediately, I got a job at Café Select, in SoHo, and would search Craigslist every day until five in the morning for photography internships.

One night, Nicole told me that Opening Ceremony was starting an E-commerce site, and suggested I give them my resume. I was hired — in addition to landing a part-time internship — so I quit my restaurant job.

I worked seven days a week, and gave myself a $5 daily budget for four months. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches almost exclusively.

Two years later, after rising to Photo Director, I quit Opening Ceremony.

I still needed to pay rent, so I moved in with my then girlfriend and put my apartment on AirBNB to generate income. I noticed AirBNB listed some beautiful homes, but their ads featured shitty BlackBerry photos, so I cold-called the company and it turned out they were looking for a photographer.

I began to shoot three listings a day for $40 each shooting anything for $40 is preposterous but, coupled with money I made babysitting on the side, my $120 day rate was more than enough to survive on.

Eventually, my girlfriend gave me the boot, so I slept on a friend’s couch for two and a half months until I found a new place:

A windowless basement studio in South Williamsburg.

I moved in, finally let go of the apartment I listed on AirBNB, and managed to pay rent just fine. Ten months later, I signed a lease for my current apartment — which has windows — but kept the basement space as my photography studio.

And now I’m buying $5 coffees.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? Designer Jordana Warmflash shares her New York story, inside the New York City studio of photographer Pamela Hanson.

Previous: de Castro's studio renovation, above: de Castro's Brooklyn home; all photography by Christelle de Castro