Poetic and Picturesque Yunnan seen through Thierry's lens

With all in silence, the mist blanketed rice terraces at dawn. Everything seemed to be waiting for this very moment: a beam of light was pouring on the cascading terraces through clouds. Paddy fields were like mirrors, reflecting orange, dark blue, and red gold color.

After several hours' wait on a cold night, Thierry Bornier finally pressed the shutter of his camera with a "click" sound to capture this daybreak. The scenery in the field was changing in line with the moving sun lights. 

"Around 70 times," he could not remember the exact number when asked how many times to go to Yuanyang rice terraces. But when the first time Thierry went to Yuanyang County in 2011, "The moment I saw the rice terraces, I was enamored by this natural beauty. I thus made up my mind to be a photographer."


Yuanyang rice terraces shrouded by the mist in the early morning. [Provided by Thierry]

Love at first glance and start photography career in Yunnan

Born in a small town in the south of France, Thierry had worked as a CFO in an international fashion company in New York. According to him, his daily work was merely "crunching number."

Before returning to the USA, as he completed the task in China, Thierry took a break in his life in 2011. He bought the first camera Nikon D700 and then traveled across China. 


Thierry Bornier. [Provided by Thierry]

When traveling to Yuanyang County in Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, he encountered amazing scenery that he had never seen before: these paddy fields were cultivated on the slope of mountains. One was closely attached to another, looking like a silver belt or a mirror. 

The magnificent landscape of rice terraces had ignited Thierry's dream to become a photographer, as he realized "crunching number" every day can not satisfy his passion for natural beauty.

Thierry quit his job in the U.S. and "worked" in the fields of the Hani area. He sought farmers' advice on whether it was sunny or cloudy. Then he could capture thousands of photos of rice terraces under a variety of light and shadow. One photo named "Misty Rice Field Terraces" was published on National Geographic.

"Every time you type Thierry Bornier in a search engine, the photos popping up are not my portraits other than photos of Yuanyang rice terraces," said Thierry proudly, beaming with delight.



Yuanyang rice terraces. [Provided by Thierry]

Thierry fell in love with this scenery and the local culture. He learned that these terraces had a history of thousands of years, and they could still be retained today thanks to the diligent Hani ethnic people. "They have worked in the fields for generations without slack or waste. I was pretty impressed and inspired by the spirits and culture of Yunnan people," said Thierry from the bottom of his heart.

Hani rice terraces in Yunnan's Honghe were successfully listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013. Thierry showed his Yuanyang rice terraces work to the UNESCO staff who visited Yunnan. "I wanted to record these natural wonders and related human cultures. I sincerely wish rice terraces could be preserved and passed on intact," he was excited with tears in his eyes.

Inspired by nature and take powerful photos with emotions

The encounter with Yuanyang rice terraces had become a watershed in Thierry's life. His photography career began in Yunnan, but his footsteps extended to Sichuan, Hunan, Guangxi, Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, and so forth. Gradually, he formed his unique style of photography.


"Cloudland," Anhui Yellow mountain surrounded by clouds. [Provided by Thierry]

When asked, "why are these photos so poetic and picturesque, unlike normal realistic landscape pictures?" 

"At first, you have to wait for the optimal time patiently and capture the subtle changes between light and shadow. Secondly, you need to feel and express the special emotions of the site rather than just record it." Thierry rarely uses applications such as Photoshop to edit his photos. Instead, they were shot through the filters of the camera itself. "Nature is a poem only for people who can read it with their heart and soul." He thinks these photos are "organic" and "natural." 


Thierry took photos in the field. [Provided by Thierry]

Through Thierry's lens, you can see an old Naxi woman staring in the distance with a smile and wrinkles on her face. You can see a black-headed gull floating on the soft silky water as ripples lap across the water in the pond of Green Lake Park of Kunming. There were some verdant grasses on Dongchuang Red land, on a backdrop of ridges in the far distance, and cotton-like clouds in the azure sky.


A black-headed gull. [Provided by Thierry]


A Naxi woman. [Provided by Thierry]

Thierry's heart is filled with a deep humanistic love for Yunnan. His photos of Yunnan are a wonderful painting of nature, through which you can hear chirping birds in the mountains and see swaying grasses in the field.

Thierry is a renowned photographer now, and besides landscape photography, he also took pictures for many celebrities, like Yang Liping and Zhouxun. His works were frequently featured in National Geographic, The Telegraph, Wired, and other high-profile publications, and Cartier and Siemens had collected some. In the past five years, he earned many international nominations and topped the 10 Best landscape photographers in the World in 2018.


Red land of Dongchuan District in Kunming. [Provided by Thierry]

Thierry has always been on the road and said, "Landscape photography is my belief, and nature is the only spiritual book of my life." However, he had to pause due to the pandemic and started to think of something else.

"Sweet" crossover: from photographer to chocolate master

Baking is Thierry's hobby in his spare time. He especially loves making chocolate. In his eyes, photography is a visual art, and delicate chocolate is the dual art of vision and taste buds.

After some research, Thierry Dessert Atelier was established at Jinding 1919 Creative Park in Kunming. Meanwhile, in order to comprehend the complicated process of dessert making and precise proportions of ingredients, he took online courses and obtained an academic degree.


Busy workers at the atelier. [Provided by Thierry]

Thierry Dessert Atelier uses selected cocoa beans to make high-quality chocolates. A piece of chocolate consists of three layers from inward to outward. The 1st layer is the fruit or nuts, the 2nd layer is tea or wine, and the 3rd layer or the surface is painted with "Starry nights" of Vincent Van Gogh, "Waterlilies" of Claude Monet, "Shrimps" of Qi Baishi or Thierry’s photos in bright colors.


A chocolate collection with different flavors. [Provided by Thierry]

When talking about why the atelier was open in Kunming, Thierry explained, "Kunming is a city with ‘eternal’ spring, and the climate here is perfect for chocolate storage. The hospitality of the Kunming people reminds me of Provence in France. It gives me a sense of belonging, so I want to settle down here."

A heavy jet-black suitcase is on the floor at Thierry's home with Phase One and Hasselblad cameras, lenses, and filters inside. Making chocolate is only an episode of his life. After the short pause, he will set off again.

Pointing at his luggage, Thierry said, "Here are my best memories! I wish I could restart my journey soon and go back to Yuanyang rice terraces always lingering in my dreams."

Click here to view Chinese report

(Editors: Ines, Christine)

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