Genie Kausto is a creative duo made up of hair artist Evanie Frausto and photographer George Kan. The New York-based pair initially met when Frausto cut Kan’s hair. “We started doing photos together almost a year after that,” says Frausto. “It just seemed to work. We both had very different perspectives but they seemed to come together.”
The alias of Genie Kausto not only adds an air of mystery, it also allows the pair to be credited jointly for the work. “This world we’re in is so eager to divide it up, saying who did this and who did that. But it’s never really like that – in any project,” explains Kan. “The credits being accurate to the division of work or labour or ideas is a lie everyone just seems to live with. It’s weird. Working together we really felt that, and coming up with the name Genie Kausto was part of the solution to that problem.”
Though their styles seemingly clash, the pair manage to fuse elements of their separate tastes into one free-spirited aesthetic. For hair artist Frausto, his penchant for big silhouettes and synthetic wigs includes references to fashion history and nods to 90s supermodels, Vogue covers from the 60s, and old hair ads from the 40s. In contrast with Kan’s background studying art history and performance, he embraces the weird, the wonderful, and the theatrical, all the while making sure a loose narrative is woven throughout his images. This mish-mash of approaches comes together to create imagery that’s beautifully camp and comical, plus “a little gross”. “That’s important,” says Frausto.
Though they still work on individual projects, as Genie Kausto the pair have worked on bodies of work for Vice, Paper Magazine, Office Magazine and many more. Much of their recent output has been quarantine inspired, and as the duo are also a real life married couple as well, it’s allowed them the opportunity to push their ideas within the constraints of a pandemic.
The series for Office Magazine for instance, Couples Retreat, involves the pair adopting various nostalgic, romantic identities for a series of oddball self-portraits. Elsewhere, the series Inside and Occupied for Paper sees them tapping into the things once thought of as just hobbies, which have now become obsessions during lockdown, such as cycling, knitting and gaming.
The element of fantasy in Genie Kausto’s work is what sets their editorial work apart, and this sense of escapism is heavily linked to both Frausto and Kan’s upbringings. “I grew up in a very conservative neighbourhood,” says Frausto. “A Mexican-American community, and I was a scene kid, with giant hair, who’d made his own skinny jeans. So I really stood out. But that was the point. It was about trying to imagine a totally different way of looking.”
“I was theatre obsessed. Everything was a show,” adds Kan. “The whole time. The whole fantasy thing, really, I think it’s a queer thing. Both of us as kids really gravitated to the feminine toys, the feminine clothes, stuff that was never really granted to us – but we stole it for ourselves.” For both the photographer and hair artist, their work is about escaping reality, being different and being bold enough to imagine something else, something bigger.
While the couple’s work is centred around escapism, living and creating together means switching off from the actual making of work can sometimes be difficult for Kan and Frausto. “It’s hard to know where the line is between the work and everything else,” says Frausto. “We’ll end up at three in the morning arguing over a prosthetic, or the positioning of something. And it’s getting later and one of us is cranky and we’re still stuck in the costume and we can’t take the make-up off and we just bicker.”
“We do everything on the smallest budget, so finally buying things like a tripod, eases a lot of the stress,” adds Kan. But their love for what they do keeps them excited and eager to push it. “It’s a form of expression. An outlet. It’s a chance to get really weird,” say Frausto. “In fashion there are so many filters, so many rules to follow. So it’s nice to go balls to the wall and let it all hang out.”
Though Genie Kausto has yet to work on any commercial jobs, with the editorial work they’ve created, they’ve made their vision and aesthetic clear, and nothing will be compromised. “It’s really the same as the rest of the work we do. We’re just doing whatever we’re doing, and really, that’s when we do it best.”
Frausto and Kan are keen to be part of an environment that’s open to change and progress. “There are a lot of changes in fashion that are really important and are just starting to happen,” says Frausto. “We’re seeing different kinds of people – both in front and behind the camera. I just hope that these kinds of changes are not just a trend.”
“I agree, but that is really just the more forward-thinking part of the fashion world,” adds Kan. “To see any of those changes really be part of the mainstream will be another thing. But beyond that, part of the problem with the ‘creative industries’ is inherent to them being ‘industries’. It’s all capitalism and exploitation and nasty thoughts made normal. But we try not to get stuck on that.”
“Yeah. That’s where the ‘fantasy’ comes in,” says Frausto.