This snow and ice festival takes place in Harbin, a Chinese city that looks as if nobody lives there, even though it actually has a population of around 6 million. I didn’t see many cars, but the air pollution was unbelievable. The sky was a dark yellow and it was really cold, with temperature going as low as -46C. Sunny days were -29C.

Every year when the river starts to freeze, they cut up big chunks of ice and use them to make buildings. The tallest rise to 40 metres. I don’t fully understand how they are built and when I saw neon signs being wired into the ice, I didn’t think they looked safe. But nothing happens.

Visitors come mostly for the light displays at night, which are super-theatrical and kitsch. I preferred the subtlety of the daytime: no one around, just endless shades of white. Here, you can see the contrast in colour and texture between the ice and snow sculptures. The ice stays blue-grey, the snow is more yellowish.

The people come well-equipped in furs, mittens and hats. They seem to enjoy themselves. You see couples taking pictures, laughing, with kids on sleds. It felt normal. What didn’t feel normal was the money being spent. I don’t remember the exact entry fee, but it was substantial. And once you’re inside, there are tea houses, restaurants and horse-drawn rides, all extra. I was quite shocked.

Massimo Vitali, "The ice buildings can be 40 metres tall" in My best winter photograph, The Guardian, December 26, 2017.