NO REFRIGERATORS needed here. A fish market, and freezing fog that the sun struggles to pierce, bear witness to the ferocious chills of Yakutsk, Siberia's largest city – and the world's coldest.
In January, when Swiss photographer Steeve Iuncker arrived in the Russian city, population 270,000, the temperature was -48 °C. "I won't forget it," he says. In less than a minute he lost feeling in his index finger. Then his camera froze.
With an average winter temperature of -40 °C, Yakutsk isn't quite the coldest place on Earth – that crown goes to Antarctica. Nor is it the coldest settlement; the nearby towns of Oymyakon and Verkhoyansk average -47 °C in winter. But, built on a layer of permafrost, it is the coldest city, says Anton Vaks, who studies Siberian climates at the University of Oxford. The lowest temperature ever recorded there is -64.4 °C.
Siberia is so cold because it is isolated from the warming effects of oceans, says Vaks. "The Pacific Ocean to the south-east is blocked by mountain ranges, and the Atlantic is too distant to moderate the cold. The only ocean that's relatively close is the Arctic, but it's frozen in winter."
Back in France, the Natural History Museum in Paris has just awarded Iuncker a €10,000 prize based on these Siberian shots to create an exhibition entitled Extreme Cities.
Right now, though, Yakutsk isn't cold. Despite the permafrost, it heats up in the summer, with a record high of 38.4 °C.