September 10, 2014 4:01 AM EDT

Jean-Francois Lepage is a photographer whose working methods are closer to that of a painter. His paradoxically alluring and disquieting photographs bare evidence to a process in which he physically cuts, draws and works into their surface to intricately evolve and brutally deconstruct the original image.

“I always thought photography was not only about taking an image of someone or something, showing an instant,” he tells TIME. “I think that unconsciously I try to extend the time, to prolong the moment of the shooting when I’m working later on my images. Cutting, engraving this inanimate matter, using staples to fix the pieces of film together – it is certainly a way to refuse the death of this instant.”

Lepage’s intuitive approach to the image-making process is cathartic. “I’m like a surgeon who faces his patient with lucidity and commitment but with the absolute certitude that the only person I can really save is – myself.”

Over the past three and a half decades, since his first published images appeared in Depeche Mode, he has chosen to work sporadically for editorial and advertising clients, while taking time—including a 13-year period of abstinence from commercial environs—to pursue his art through painting in a purer form.

<em>Updated 1:15 p.m. E.T.</em>
                        Fast food workers demanding higher wages staged <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/business/fast-food-protests-spread-overseas.html" target="_blank">strikes</a> in dozens of cities across as many as 30 countries Thursday, alongside 150 similar protests planned in the United States.
                        Workers were set to take to the streets in Seoul, Dublin, Casablanca and Panama City, part of strikes planned in as many as 80 cities, the New York <em>Times</em> reports.
                        "We're here to get $15 and a union, we're here to strike, we're here to make some noise and we're here to disrupt because that's the only way to get their attention," Taco Bell employee Chad Tall <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/15/news/economy/fast-food-strike/">said</a> on CNN. He and other workers were striking outside a McDonald's in New York.
                        The most recent round of fast food wage strikes began more than a year ago, but they have failed to meet their goal of forcing McDonald's and other companies to raise workers' wages to at least $15 an hour. (The current federal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25.)
                        Protest organizers in the U.S. have turned to international workers to increase global pressure on fast food companies in light of dwindling membership in American unions. Fast food companies increasingly rely on international revenue in the face of falling U.S. sales.
                        “Fast-food workers in many other parts of the world face the same corporate policies—low pay, no guaranteed hours and no benefits,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union.
                        The median pay for fast food workers is slightly higher than $9 an hour, coming out to $18,500 a year, CNN reports—which falls short of the Census Bureau's poverty threshold of $23,000 for a family of four.
                        [time-gallery id="101681"] (JEAN-FRANCOIS LEPAGE)
Updated 1:15 p.m. E.T. Fast food workers demanding higher wages staged strikes in dozens of cities across as many as 30 countries Thursday, alongside 150 similar protests planned in the United States. Workers were set to take to the streets in Seoul, Dublin, Casablanca and Panama City, part of strikes planned in as many as 80 cities, the New York Times reports. "We're here to get $15 and a union, we're here to strike, we're here to make some noise and we're here to disrupt because that's the only way to get their attention," Taco Bell employee Chad Tall said on CNN. He and other workers were striking outside a McDonald's in New York. The most recent round of fast food wage strikes began more than a year ago, but they have failed to meet their goal of forcing McDonald's and other companies to raise workers' wages to at least $15 an hour. (The current federal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25.) Protest organizers in the U.S. have turned to international workers to increase global pressure on fast food companies in light of dwindling membership in American unions. Fast food companies increasingly rely on international revenue in the face of falling U.S. sales. “Fast-food workers in many other parts of the world face the same corporate policies—low pay, no guaranteed hours and no benefits,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union. The median pay for fast food workers is slightly higher than $9 an hour, coming out to $18,500 a year, CNN reports—which falls short of the Census Bureau's poverty threshold of $23,000 for a family of four. [time-gallery id="101681"]
JEAN-FRANCOIS LEPAGE

While Lepage’s early photographs were visceral and dark—including sexual images that could not be reproduced in a commercial editorial context—he found like-minded collaborators including art director Grégoire Philipidhis at the short lived, but highly influential Jill magazine in Paris. Philipidhis embraced his work and gave him the freedom to express himself within its pages.

Subsequently, Lepage has maintained his distinctive voice as his imagery has evolved. “I would compare my creative process to a never ending spiral. I do have different periods that are representing my whole personality,” he says. “I need this raw part to my work as well as the poetic approach which is also important for me.”

After his self imposed exile from photography, Lepage returned with a new approach, moving outside to work on a series of stories for AMICA magazine. In his work, Lepage intentionally shows the source used to light his subjects, and to “compose and balance his light with the Sun to create a new perspective.”

As Lepage moved away from the monochromatic palette of his earlier work, a dark undercurrent prevailed. “When I look at my images I see overly bright colors that are hiding our sadness – people who are wearing masks to reveal themselves – lonely characters strong and peaceful – mutilated forms that show human beauty and eyes turned inward to better understand our world.”

More recently he has begun to pull away from fashion once more. He is currently making new work, recycling photographs from his archive to build new pictures—finding his palette by cutting up outtakes from his old shoots of now discontinued 8×10, 891 Polaroid from the 1990s, to make work which he describes as still “photographic but more abstract.”

“It is like in life, some people are experimenting when they are young and they become more and more conventional with time [while] a few others will always continue to experiment,” he says.“I think the world is always limiting for people who want to propose something different. On the other hand it’s also because the world is limiting that they can experiment.”


Jean-Francois Lepage is a photographer basedin Paris. His work is widely seen as blending elements of cinema, surrealism, and haute-couture.

Phil Bicker is a senior photo editor at TIME.


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