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Museums: Photography and multimedia

Looking at life through a lens

© Pascal Martinez
Vue de l'exposition 'ANTICORPS' d'Antoine d'Agata (BAL)

Jeu de Paume

The Centre National de la Photographie moved into this site in 2005. The building, which once served as a tennis court, has been divided into two white, almost hangar-like galleries. It is not an intimate space, but it works well for showcase retrospectives. A video art and cinema suite in the basement shows new digital installation work, as well as feature-length films made by artists. There's also a sleek café and a decent bookshop.

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8th arrondissement

Le BAL

During the Années Folles the house at 6, Impasse de la Défense sheltered a ballroom, a cabaret and a ‘love hotel’ where the bawdy crowds of the 18th arrondissement came to shake their stuff to the airs of the accordion. Then, in the aftermath of WW2, the dance hall became one of the biggest betting shops in France, and it wasn’t until 2006 that the City of Paris gave this den of debauchery and gambling a new lease of life as a reflection, exhibition, production and dialogue space for documentary. Through its exhibitions, performances, debates, screenings and ambitious education programme, the BAL puts a huge effort into recording 'reality' in all its complexity, altering preconceptions, sketching history through the present and multiplying visual approaches. Under the direction of Raymond Depardon, this independent initiative interrogates the historical, political and social stakes of documentary through contemporary imagery, problematising a world saturated by the visual and protecting it from the ravages of a culture of distraction.

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Montmartre and Pigalle

Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP)

Probably the capital's best photography exhibition space, hosting retrospectives by Larry Clark and Martine Barrat, along with work by emerging photographers. The building, an airy mansion with a modern extension, contains a huge permanent collection. The venue organises the biennial Mois de la Photo and the Art Outsiders festival of new media web art in September.

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4th arrondissement
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Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Opened in 2003, this two-floor gallery is dedicated to the work of acclaimed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. It consists of a tall, narrow atelier in a 1913 building, with a minutely catalogued archive, open to researchers, and a lounge on the fourth floor screening films. In the spirit of Cartier-Bresson, who assisted on three Jean Renoir films and drew and painted all his life (some drawings are also found on the fourth floor), the Fondation opens its doors to other disciplines with three annual shows. The convivial feel of the Fondation - and its Le Corbusier armchairs - fosters relaxed discussion with staff and other visitors.

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14th arrondissement

Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins

The spectacular, ten-acre jardin alone makes a visit to the Albert Kahn Musée & Jardins in Boulogne-Billancourt worthwhile: Each section is modelled on a garden from around the world – rocky Vosgienne forest, Japanese village gardens, contemporary Japanese gardens and English and French gardens – and makes for a wonderful, lazy afternoon away from the hubbub of central Paris. On Tuesdays and Sundays between April and September (except July and August), in the pavillon du thé,  you can even partake in a Japanese tea ceremony, led by a tea master from Kyoto’s Urasenke school. Albert Kahn was an early-20th-century banker and philanthropist who financed ‘discovery’ missions across the world. His main legacy is the ‘Les Archives de la Planète’ on show inside the house – a fascinating collection of films and snapshots brought back from each mission in over 60 countries.  Kahn’s autochrome Lumière photography collections (colour photos on glass plates) were among the first of their kind and are particularly fascinating if you’re into anthropology or photography.

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Visitors' areas

Musée de la Musique

Alongside the concert hall, this innovative music museum houses a gleamingly restored collection of instruments from the old Conservatoire, interactive computers and scale models of opera houses and concert halls. Visitors are supplied with an audio guide in a choice of languages, and the musical commentary is a joy, playing the appropriate instrument as you approach each exhibit. Alongside the trumpeting brass, curly woodwind instruments and precious strings are more unusual items, such as the Indonesian gamelan orchestra, whose sounds influenced the work of Debussy and Ravel. Concerts in the amphitheatre use instruments from the collection.

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North of the centre
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La Cinémathèque Française

Relocated to Frank Gehry's striking, spacious cubist building, the Cinémathèque Française now boasts four screens, a bookshop, a restaurant, exhibition space and the superb Musée du Cinéma. In the spirit of its founder Henri Langlois, the Cinémathèque hosts retrospectives, cult movies, classics, experimental cinema and Q&A sessions.The Musée alone is worth the trip. As you wind your way through its shadowy rooms, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re being watched – everywhere you look, there’s a hundred-year-old camera or projector staring back at you. The exhibition takes you from the birth of cinema in 19th-century ‘magic lanterns’ and optical illusions through to the first golden age of the Hollywood studios in the 30s. Along the way, you encounter looped projections of silent films, a panoply of Kinetoscopes and Mutoscopes (just wait and see), and a treasure trove of movie memorabilia collected by Langlois over the course of his eventful life. Captions are mostly in French, but the English audio guide helps. In any case, these wonderful exhibits and moving images speak for themselves.Museum opening hours: Mon-Sat 12pm-7pm; Sun 10am-8pm.Full price: €5. Discounted: €4. Under 12s: €2.50. Entry + film ticket: €8.

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12th arrondissement

The Centre Pompidou

The primary colours, exposed pipes and air ducts make the Centre Pompidou one of the best-known sights in Paris. The then-unknown Italo-British architectural duo of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers won the competition with their 'inside-out' boilerhouse approach, which put air-conditioning, pipes, lifts and the escalators on the outside, leaving an adaptable space within. The multi-disciplinary concept of modern art museum (the most important in Europe), library, exhibition and performance spaces, and repertory cinema was also revolutionary.When the centre opened in 1977, its success exceeded all expectations. After a two-year revamp, the centre reopened in 2000 with an enlarged museum, renewed performance spaces, vista-rich Georges restaurant and a mission to get back to the stimulating interdisciplinary mix of old. Entrance to the forum is free (as is the library, which has a separate entrance), but you now have to pay to go up the escalators.The Centre Pompidou (or 'Beaubourg') holds the largest collection of modern art in Europe, rivalled only in its breadth and quality by MoMA in New York. Sample the contents of its vaults (50,000 works of art by 5,000 artists) on the website, as only a fraction - about 600 works - can be seen for real at any one time. There is a partial rehang each year.For the main collection, buy tickets on the ground floor and take the escalators to level four for post-1960s art. Level five spans 1905 to 1960. There are four temporary exhibition spaces

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4th arrondissement

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