Melissa Wilgis


She Tells a Story is a series of unique silver gelatin photograms made using vintage and antique women’s undergarments. The alluring images are ethereal, delicate and dream-like with delicate strength.  They’re surprisingly tactile. Once framed and hung, they appear to be strikingly three dimensional, as though the actual garment is under glass. At first glance, the subjects seem simple against a stark background. But look closer and the delicate ribbons, lacy hems, firm boning, and timeless net lace offer the viewer more to discover. 

The first piece I made in the series is “Full Slip.” It was the cigarette burn on the right thigh that caught my attention when I was browsing in the thrift store. Who wore the slip? What was her story? When I’m working on a photogram, I try to visualize the person who wore the garment. I generally don’t see faces, but rather fleeting images of torsos and limbs against various backdrops; simple or elaborate, seductive or domestic; light or dark. 

In truth though, the garment and the light do the important work in the darkroom. They tell the story while I simply move things around. I often spend fifteen or twenty minutes repositioning a garment on the paper, adjusting and repeating as necessary. If I’m printing on the counter, I’ll climb up as high as I can to get a birds eye view. If I’m printing on the floor I’ll crawl and walk around. While it might be easier if I had more light to see what I’m doing, that would also take a lot of the fun out of it.  Anticipation has always been one of my favorite things about the darkroom.  

The simplicity of my photograms allows the viewer to find their own story, be it politics, feminism, gender, sexuality, body-image, materialism, culture, economy, history, family or simply nostalgia.  To me, they’re first and foremost, a reminder to always try to see things in a different light. They aren’t just garments. There is a story behind them.


So often we pass glimpses of our history without really noticing. We may see the empty building with broken windows and vines crawling up the walls, but do we truly see the beauty of that space? Perhaps we see the structure itself, but we don’t see its’ simple, lovely past. My goal is to capture the energy of these places and remind us that people lived their lives in these spaces. Teachers taught, children sang, preachers preached, we loved, lost, learned, and celebrated. The doorknobs, windows, paint flakes, fixtures, and tools are clues to the humble history within our sight.

I would love for these photographs to help remind us where we came from, and who we are.

Melissa Wilgis graduated from North Carolina State University with a BA in English. She creates photograms with her “critters” ( seahorses, crabs, butterflies, dragonflies, sea whips, wildflowers, and other curiosities) as well as the antique garments she is drawn to. Her photogram compositions are simple, allowing the viewer to discover their own story within them, whether that’s politics, feminism, gender, sexuality, body-image, materialism, culture, economy, history, family, or simply nostalgia. The photograms are a reminder to see things in a different light.