How to be a Photo Art Director: A Conversation With Primary’s Louisa Wells

How to be a Photo Art Director: A Conversation With Primary’s Louisa Wells

How to be a Photo Art Director: A Conversation With Primary’s Louisa Wells

by The Luupe

The Luupe speaks with Louisa Wells about collaborating with Primary's in-house creative and marketing team and how simple, authentic imagery help communicate the brand’s voice and values.

For almost a decade, has built its brand of bright, logo-free, "babes and kids, not boys and girls" clothes as one of the most recognizable on the playground. Catalog images are shot in-studio, lit in a way that is both polished, yet not overdone – there's an elegant no-frills-y-ness to it. The kids are cute and their gestures feel authentic – full of in-between moments that parents can relate to.
And this is where Louisa Wells, Primary’s Photo Art Director steps in, shaping the subtle details that help make the brand shiny, yet real.
After graduating with a degree in photography from New York City’s Vanderbilt University, Wells balanced various roles in PR and online marketing with her own photography. She spent eight of these years shaping visual communications at Alan Stevenson School, keeping parents and the community connected through imagery.
We caught up with Louisa to learn more about how she balances personal and commercial work and the importance of authentic photography in shaping brand identity. Oh, and Scandanavaia (read on, we’ll get into it!)

All Primary images courtesy of Primary and photographers Erin Foster and Thanis Maretis
▲ Summer looks from Primary.
The Luupe: Before we talk about your work at Primary, let’s take a step back and look at your own work. Your mix of styles flows seamlessly and often overlaps. Street photos have an edge of fashion and your studio work is clean and polished but accessible.
Louisa Wells: For a long time, I’ve gravitated towards pictures that are uncomplicated in their nature and yet still have so much intention and emotion behind them.
I think of the simplicity of Avedon or even the uncomplicated street-style photography of Ruth Orkin; she just captured what was there. I’ve always been drawn to that, I think, and I feel that this is reflected in my own work.
My eye tends to go to that corner of light reflecting off a New York apartment building, or the way hair blows in the wind, or even in-studio, how the light feels like an accessory to the model, helping to bring her to the forefront.
All simple things but if they make my heart sing even a little, I want to capture them. It’s how I see the world and how I like to work– with only a few lights or with the light available, and it works for me.
▲ Left: Lydia - beauty test for Supreme Models. Right: One-Curve, Yanisha. © Louisa Wells
The Luupe: What else is inspiring you creatively or stylistically right now?
Wells: Creatively, right now, I’m inspired by Scandinavia. My parents used to live in Sweden and I’ve been back twice this year to visit old friends. Everything from clothes to fashion to architecture, to even how I feel when I’m there energizes me.
I look at different designers or artists in Copenhagen and am looking at what they’re doing right now. It feels different than what’s happening in New York right now and that’s exciting to me.
▲ Left: Tricia Akello, muse. Right: Steps series. © Louisa Wells
The Luupe: When you were studying photography at Vanderbilt, did you envision yourself working as an art director?
Wells: I definitely didn’t see myself working as an Art Director and it’s been the greatest gift to learn and be stretched in this new capacity. I was working towards New York City as my landing place after college, but the only thing I knew about fashion, besides going the magazine route, was PR. I thought maybe I’d do PR for a fashion brand, but that didn’t pan out.
▲ Test shoot for Supreme Models © Louisa Wells
The Luupe: What has changed most in your creative/professional mind since your undergrad days?
Wells: I think, even in the past few years, my mind has been stretched for what is possible in my career, both with photography and beyond; especially since landing this Art Director position.
I’ve realized that even if you’re on a certain track, no one is holding you to it. No one is telling you to stay in that one role just because you’ve built up years of experience there. It’s okay to pivot and start from scratch. It may not be easy, but it’s definitely okay, and oftentimes worth it.
▲ Cozy looks from Primary
The Luupe:  Early on, did you receive any advice that you hold with you?
Wells: On a practical level, the best advice I’ve received is that whatever I do, if I want to get good at it, I have to be disciplined about practicing that craft. Talent is one thing, yes, but there is something to be said about discipline and we in the creative space give enough credit to people who keep their heads down and work diligently at their craft for the long haul.
On a funnier note, I once met up with a potential mentor as I was heading back to my junior year of Vanderbilt after a 3-month internship in NYC (this was the moment I decided I would be back). She said to me, “If New York doesn’t make you cry within the first year of living here, you’re not doing it right.” I later learned that she was right!
▲ Selections from Primary's catalog
The Luupe: On your website, you describe your own work as being at the "intersection of race and high fashion," belonging, and the importance of joy. Does this also play out in your role as an art director at Primary?
Wells: It has always been important to me that I take pictures and capture people who look like me. I want that to be a staple in my work. The norm in fashion photography should always just be a multitude of different faces and sizes.
Primary’s mission is exactly that as well and it’s what drew me to the brand. In my role, and working closely with our producer, we are constantly considering the faces of kids on the site and we remind ourselves of this important mission: We want kids to be able to go to the site and see themselves.
The Luupe: So many brands today are struggling to stay "authentic" in the visuals they produce. And Primary seems to be doing a good job of that while maintaining high production quality. Can you speak to this?
Wells: We are always having conversations about this as a team and I think that it boils down to two things.
First, it has to be ingrained in the DNA of the company/brand/designer/etc. We have guidelines that are our benchmarks and we are always checking ourselves against that. When I work with our talented stylist to prep for a new shoot, we do what we call “the Rubik's cube” of making sure we’ve checked ourselves to the brand’s DNA and mission.
Secondly, it wouldn’t be possible without the team we work with. I enjoy working with talented people who also understand the brand’s mission. From there, it all sort of works out pretty organically.
▲ Selections from Primary's catalog
The Luupe: That’s great and makes so much sense. Can you describe a day in your life working at Primary?
Wells: A day in my life can look pretty different depending on the time of year, but we’re always thinking about two months ahead to the next season.
Let’s say I’m gearing up for an upcoming photoshoot. I head to our NYC office where I work with our stylist and we literally sit on the floor and lay all the clothes and outfits out.
We compare and discuss color combos, we make sure we’re not being gender-prescriptive, where are the stories for the season, etc. Then, we lay down all of the faces of the potential cast and cast all of the kids into looks. This can take a few days depending on the size of the shoot.
All in the background, I’m also checking slack and chatting with the rest of our creative team – working with our Art Director of Graphic Design to come up with visual content ideas for upcoming campaigns, working with email and design to update and select all of the visuals for our website updates, doing photo research and playing with layout ideas for web and catalog as well are all things I could be doing on any given day.
▲ Meet Louisa Wells.
The Luupe: Wow! Do you have an all-time favorite project you worked on for Primary that you'd like to discuss?
Wells: My favorite project to date has been our Fall ‘22 shoot and catalog. We are big on back to school and working with the stylist, we came up with the idea to create a rainbow of outfits for the season.
From there, the team came up with the idea to make a “yearbook” of sorts and give every kid a moment to shine, complete with adding their signatures and getting fun quotes like we used to do for my own yearbooks in school. The end result is something I’m really proud of.
View post on Instagram
▲ Behind-the-scenes at Primary's fall catalog photoshoot.
The Luupe: Thanks so much for your time and insights! In closing, as we're starting to wind down 2022, what's on your creative horizon in the next few months?
Wells: Up next, I’m planning on resting and dreaming about what I want to accomplish in 2023.
The Luupe: Haha! Same here!
Wells: The end of the year tends to be pretty hectic at my job so it leaves little time for personal work; which is why I like to block out time to just dream and plan. I do have a few editorial projects landing soon and I also hope to continue my self-portrait series that I’ve been working on since 2020. Be on the lookout for that via my Instagram
The Luupe
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 80+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.
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