By Chrissie Ferguson
Like the stars in a night sky, our dreams can seem numerous and intangible. But every so often, if we are lucky, we can break away from the hustle and bustle of life to focus on a clearer, brighter picture of those stars that are, in fact, tangible.
One dream, in particular—a dream to shoot a portrait of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder—may seem like a pipe dream for most. But for Australian photographer and writer, Genevra Siciliano (formerly Jennifer Sando), an idea sparked when her passion for the band and a passion for photography collided.
The idea to snap Ed’s photo may have begun as one of those faint twinkling stars in the sky. But when the 2011 Eddie Vedder solo tour included an announcement of a two-night stop in Adelaide, Australia, Siciliano saw things so much clearer. And before she knew it, that distant star became a bright star that she thought she just might be able to reach after all.
CHRISSIE: How and when did your interest in photography begin?
GENEVRA: The photography started right before I left a job in IT. I had also just enrolled in a writing diploma course. Halfway through that, I went on my honeymoon to Italy, and I borrowed a digital SLR. And what started as a curiosity turned into an obsession.
I ended up dropping out of the writing course because I felt a major pull towards photography. And then when my first child was born, I took a stupid amount of photos. Sometimes we do that as new moms. Except I would analyze each photo, and that’s how I taught myself.
CHRISSIE: What images did you enjoy capturing the most?
GENEVRA: I was initially interested in abstract stuff. On my IT work breaks, I would go around the city with a really basic digital compact and take pictures of what seemed abstract to me.
CHRISSIE: Let’s transition to your passion for Pearl Jam. We all remember those moments when our love of Pearl Jam began. When did that happen for you?
GENEVRA: It was when I first watched their video for “Alive.” I wasn’t into anything else similar at the time, and I was struck by Eddie’s singing style especially. The video urged me to follow them musically from that point on.
CHRISSIE: Your first concert was in 1995. What was that experience like?
GENEVRA: I remember that I was wearing these leather pants, and they were stuck to me, and I was stuck to people. I could touch the front barricade, and about halfway through the song “Last Exit,” I decided I didn’t want to spend the entire show getting crushed and wanted to just enjoy them. So I motioned to the security guard to get me out.
But for some reason, the way that I like to remember it—my body was gracefully catapulting to the other side. It was like poetry in my mind, but in reality, it totally didn’t go down like that. I probably elbowed someone in the face accidentally. After that, I happily watched from the back, and the band of course didn’t disappoint.
CHRISSIE: In 2010, you made it your quest to obtain a photo of Eddie. I read that you were walking through the mall, and the idea randomly hit you?
GENEVRA: I was wanting to do more, artistically, with my photography. I wanted it to be decidedly different. Then when I heard about the solo tour announcement, the passion of Pearl Jam and the photography collided, and the idea was born.
CHRISSIE: So it was the 2011 Eddie Vedder solo tour announcement that really made you believe that this shoot was going to happen?
GENEVRA: Yes, and there was something about the challenge as well. I knew that it needed to be something that I really gave a shit about. I was also mentally prepared for the challenge. So that idea just made too much sense at the time.
CHRISSIE: You then had an idea to capture Eddie’s and/or PJ Management’s attention by posting various images on social media. Did you have an ultimate plan for the images that you would include in your campaign, or did you just stumble across the ideas on a daily basis?
GENEVRA: I did have a base plan—to post one photo a day for the three months—advent style, leading to the first night of the show. The only way that I was going to be able to do it was through social media. That was all I had planned. With the images, I improvised.
CHRISSIE: What were some of the craziest images that you captured? Are all of your photos included in what would later become a book, or are there some things that you didn’t share?
GENEVRA: Well, the craziest one is not in the book. Keeping in mind that people’s definitions of crazy can differ. I was at my local butcher’s store. I learned that the butcher was a Pearl Jam fan, too, and I asked him if he wanted to stand next to a sign saying, “I want to take a portrait of Eddie Vedder,” while holding up a massive butchered pig. I took the photo, and we laughed about it.
Afterwards, I read somewhere that Ed was vegan or vegetarian, and I thought that I didn’t want to offend him, so I didn’t include the photo. Sometimes, as an artist, you are in your head too much. I had to remind myself why I was doing the project. That was a good time to step out and kind of get back down to earth then.
CHRISSIE: Radio stations soon started to interview you. Did this exposure on-air help you to receive the support that you needed to reach your ultimate goal?
GENEVRA: The radio exposure helped me with community support in gaining momentum for the project. I don’t believe that it helped me to get the band’s attention.
CHRISSIE: Let’s talk about the day when you received the phone call that you would have this opportunity to shoot Ed before the Adelaide show. What was that like?
GENEVRA: It was actually a text message from his tour manager. It was direct—“Eddie will have time for you on this day.” I froze with excitement. (Laughing) I thought someone took my heart out and bounced it around for a while and put it back in. I was just smiling at everyone and everything.
Trying to describe the feeling is like…if I got a parking ticket, I’d be, “And I’ll gladly take another one, sir, because I’m meeting Eddie.” I was irrationally happy. It was a relief, too, because I was going to look like a bit of a d*** if it didn’t transpire. I wanted to inspire other people to go after what they want, within reason. Better to try than regret.
CHRISSIE: Let’s get to THE big moment in time. What was it like to meet Ed?
GENEVRA: It was a blessing. An actual blessing. The best way to describe his vibe and the mood of the meeting was that he made me feel like he was campaigning to meet me. Then, he made a sign. The sign is featured on the cover of the book…And it was just the way he downplayed that gesture.
He’s like, “I made this little sign, and you can use it if you want.” In my head, I was like, “UM YES, I’m taking that damn sign. We are using the sign!” But in reality I just squeaked a little ‘thanks’ to him because I was so overwhelmed.
CHRISSIE: The cover photo of your book, Picture in a Frame, is just perfect. How long were you and Ed together so that you could take some time to capture that perfect photo?
GENEVRA: I actually don’t truly know because it was so surreal, but it was more time than I had expected. It was the right amount because there was time to ease my off-the-charts anxiety and talk about what we were going to do and what my expectations were. There was also time to talk about the shows. My sister was with me, and he was offering her tickets, and he also signed a couple of prints. I feel like it was under half an hour, but it was all dream-like in my mind.
CHRISSIE: Was capturing Ed’s photo all that you thought it would be? Did it leave you wanting more?
GENEVRA: I think my mind didn’t allow me to have any real expectations about how the shoot would go. I really approached the whole project as a one foot in front of the other type of experience. It was live in my mind. The only thing I was thinking was “Don’t f*** this up.”
He gave me a generous amount of time, and he was very present. You know when you meet someone—whether it’s an artist or someone high-profile or just super busy—you can tell that they are thinking about every other thing they’ve got to do…Eddie was not like that. He was just very present, and I just really appreciated that.
CHRISSIE: My favorite photo of your campaign had to be the leaf with the lyrics, “I wish I was the messenger and all the news was good,” especially since that image was shared during a very difficult time for the people of Australia. Can you tell us more about the story behind that photo?
GENEVRA: I did that photo kind of intuitively at the time. It was an emotional response to the floods (the city of Brisbane in Queensland was badly flooded at this time). Now when I reflect on it, I probably attach more of a “this too shall pass” meaning to it.
That was a photo that inspired a few folks to reach out to me. One was a girl in Seattle named Tessa. She practically held my hand online throughout the campaign in a cheerleading capacity. She specifically mentioned that photo when she first reached out.
I just wanted to add that Pearl Jam are wonderful matchmakers. They excel at bringing fans together—whether it is new connections or old connections reuniting. I established amazing friendships across the globe, thanks to this band.
CHRISSIE: I think we all feel that way. It’s crazy to think, but in all honesty…through this pandemic…the people who have checked in on me the most are the friends I have met through traveling to see the band, which is wild and amazing at the same time.
So what was your favorite photo…besides the Eddie photos of course?
GENEVRA: My favorite photo was the one of the grapes. Artistically, it was a trippy attempt for me, but I felt I had managed to tap into my ability to express myself through photography. Ed made mention of the grapes photo, too.
CHRISSIE: Eventually, the images from the social media campaign and the photos of Ed from the photo shoot would become a book. How did that transpire?
GENEVRA: A few months after the shoot, when I was reflecting, I saw a strong story element in the way the campaign unfolded. I had the resulting portrait images and extra campaign material and so I thought—“I’ll put it into a book.” That happened way after the project finished.
I was talking to Jason Leung, and he suggested that we do a crowdfunding campaign (to publish the book). I think my original goal was $3,000—I can’t remember—but it went past $12,000, so I was really proud of that. We used the money to print 1,000 copies. It all went towards the production of the book.
CHRISSIE: I love the message from Ed at the end of your book—”You caught the wave. Enjoy your bright future.” You, in fact, caught the wave. Do you have other waves to catch? I read that you are working on publishing a book…
GENEVRA: I’m trying to seek representation for my first novel, and I’m hoping to go down the traditionally published path for that. It’s a love story that’s set in Adelaide with a strong music theme. I’m also part-way through my 2nd novel. And I’ve just started studying writing and publishing at Flinders University. And I don’t plan to drop out this time.
CHRISSIE: What are you most proud of in your career thus far? And what do you hope to accomplish in the future?
GENEVRA: I am particularly proud of raising the $12,000 I needed to publish the book. I truly didn’t anticipate that kind of response. That was a big deal for me.
I guess, too…if I had to pin it down, I would probably say starting and finishing my first novel. I am especially proud of that fact, and I’m pretty keen to show it to the world.
Follow Genevra on instagram: @iamGenevra. Or visit pictureinaframebook.com to purchase your own copy of her book, Picture in a Frame.