Houston Goths at the Beach

Sara-Beth Dillon
Photo by Marcus Sabom
Sara-Beth Dillon
They say vampires explode in the sun, but that’s a myth. Houston photographer Marcus Sabom has the evidence, He’s been shooting a lot of goth models on Galveston beaches this summer.

“People just sometimes have set ideas in their head of what things are and what they aren’t,” says Sabom. “They think of goth chicks and their heads go to Numbers or a Rammstein concert at night. And when they think of summers and beaches, and it’s all happy fun colors. Well, why can’t a goth chick apply a lot of sunscreen and carry a parasol? I’ve been the kind of guy who sees a set idea and wants to do something else.”

Sabom got his start in the Houston film scene as an actor, working on horror sets like My So-Called Afterlife, Zombified, and Killing Mr. Right. A tall, bearded man with an intimidating physical presence, he fit right in with various monsters. Initially, he had aspirations of being a director in his own right but found coordinating large projects too stressful. Instead, he channels his dark inspirations through a series of horror novellas like Nikki and Melting Point.

However, he never lost his desire to capture images on film and decided to use a small inheritance to buy photography equipment.

“Photography is my therapy,” he says. “Writing is a way to get out all the gunk and muck and terrible things I keep bottled up in order to deal with the world. I would be writing horror books and think, ‘you know, pretty things exist too.’ Photography lets me express beauty. It’s more easygoing, not the heavy commitment to making a movie. It’s just “let’s hang out for two hours an play around.’”

Being so connected to Houston’s horror scene, it’s not surprising he started shooting with goth and alternative models. One of the women that ended up in his beach series is Arianna Cruz, a former magician’s assistant.

“I met him at a shoot at the Pink Play House,” she says. “My mom had just died, and I went to the shoot to lift my spirits. I can forget about the world when I’m modeling.”

Cruz immediately bonded with Sabom, who she compares to Ferdinand the Bull, a gentle giant from the famous children’s book by Munro Leaf. She loves the seaside and agreed to be a part of his recent goths on the beach series this year.
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Arianna Cruz
Photo by Marcus Sabom
“Sunrise is gorgeous, and the wind in your hair is so dramatic,” she says. “I like to have drama in a shoot because it lets me be expressive. Yeah, people see the devil horns and the pentagram tattoos, and some of them are like ‘avert your eyes, children!’”

Crystal Christina Castillo is another model featured in Sabom’s series. She’s been working for about a year and a half, but goth since before she knew what the word meant.

“When I was a kid, my classmates were say, in an accusatory tone, ‘what are you goth, or something?’” she says. “It hurt my feelings because I didn’t know what it meant. Now it feels like home.”

Working with Sabom was her first time modeling on a beach, and she was insecure about shooting. Gradually she warmed up during the session.

“I brought my little umbrella and UV protection jacket,” she says. “People take pictures of me even when I’m not on the beach because of my look. I think all gothic people in Texas have this shared experience of people asking how can you stand wearing all this black.”

Castillo feels drawn to the goth aesthetic in modeling because of the uniqueness of expression it allows her. That’s echoed by another of Sabom’s models, Sarah-Beth Dillon. A poet and author of vampire novels on top of her modeling career, she got into goth through the music of Type O Negative.

“It spoke to something deep to me, and if I’m ever having a bad day, it’s there to comfort me,” she says. “People in the culture are very in tune in with their emotions.”
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Crystal Christina Castillo
Photo by Marcus Sabom
Dillon has one piece of practical advice for goths who want some time on the beach: setting spray on your makeup. The distinctive heavy eyeliner and dark lipsticks seen in Sabom’s shots do not mix well with sweltering sun, saltwater, and wind. A liberal dose of setting spray is how she keeps her look while on the shore.

“I really like the sunshine,” she says. “I know that’s ironic. We’re supposed to be bathing in moonlight and creeping shadows. Sunlight is good for everyone, gets Vitamin D in their system. I also love the vibes. Very relaxed, people just hanging out or reading.”

Sabom, who has been making these sort of contradictions the focus of his work, loves the way goth intersects with sunlight and beach holidays. The friction between the two tones gives photographs a vibrancy born of contraction.

“What’s the saying?” he says. “Get you a girl that can do both.”