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.