About the Photographer
Born in Prague in 1921, Vilem Kriz began taking photographs as a child. When Kriz was fourteen, his father gave him a large format Linhoff camera, which he continued to use throughout his career. He later attended the State Graphic School in Prague (1940-1946), where he was exposed to the methods and philosophy of surrealism and studied under leading Czech photographers Jaromír Funke, Josef Ehm, and František Drtikol. He continued to explore the possibilities of surrealism, even after it ceased to be fashionable. In 1946, after World War II, Kriz moved to Paris, a vibrant site of creative activity for photographers throughout the 1930s and 1940s, where he befriended Jean Cocteau. There he focused his lens on the ruined forms of the city and worn, discarded objects, portraying dreamlike aspects of the world around him.
In 1952 Kriz immigrated to the United States with his wife and son to Berkeley, California, and then to New York. For the next decade he made very few photographs, suffering from the stress of exile and poverty and feeling stymied artistically. He worked first as a janitor, later as a photographer's assistant, and for a time in the photography department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It was only in 1964, after moving back to Berkeley and starting to teach at California College of Art and Crafts in Oakland, that he returned to photography in earnest. Unlike in Paris, where he sought out the fantastical in an urban environment, in the later period of his career Kriz devoted himself to photographing small surrealist constructions he made at home or in his backyard, saying in an interview that “outside my backyard the atmosphere which I am creating in my photographs does not exist.” In images representative of this later period, such as the two untitled works in the MoCP's collection, Kriz combined various objects and found materials to create tightly framed, enigmatic compositions. He printed these photographs on eleven by fourteen inch paper and individually toned his prints with custom solutions.
Several monographs of Vilem Kriz’s work have been published, including Surrealism and Symbolism (1971), Sirague City: Photographs (1975), Séance (1979), Vilem Kriz, Photographs (1979), and Vilem Kriz Photographs (S K Josefsberg Studio, 1999). His work is held in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.