Jeff Mancilla is a photographer and documents Chicago’s graffiti and street art scene in Chicago. Jeff currently writes and shoots for 120zprophet. “Founded in 1993, 12ozProphet was established with the goal of raising the bar for the Graffiti world while integrating its distinctiveness into the wider world of Popular Culture, Fashion, Music, Art and Design. In the years since, 12ozProphet has evolved to become a platform for many of its most authoritative voices”.
Check out Jeff’s story and his photos below!
What’s going on go ahead and introduce yourself
My name is Jeff Mancilla, I’m a Chicago based photographer that mostly covers graffiti art.
Tell us about your life growing up
I grew up on the south side of Chicago with both of my parents and for some time with my older stepsiblings in middle class neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, Marquette Park, Brighton Park and eventually Bridgeport. My brothers and my sister were a bit older than me so we didn’t really hang out much because I was always the annoying and spoiled little brother. They (my brothers and my sister) eventually all left the house at fairly young ages to figure out life for themselves so I was alone a lot growing up. I think that because of that my parents were pretty strict with me. There came a point where they really couldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted and eventually my boredom drove me to the streets. The streets seemed to provide all of the entertainment and the answers I thought I needed.
When were you first introduced to graffiti?
In the late 80’s I had a friend that lived on the next block from me in The Back of the Yards neighborhood and he introduced me to graffiti. He went by the name RECK (DAR – Def Ass Riters). He was a little bit older but we hung out with the same group of people. On weekends I would tag along with him and the older people in our crowd to a club on Maxwell St. which was on the west side of Downtown Chicago called Club Naked and then later The New Scene. It was an 18 and over juice bar at an abandoned building that was filled with graffiti and although I was in grammar school, I was tall and I guess I kind of and somewhat resembled the fake id I had. There I met other members of the DAR Crew like 2Hype, Hero, Reek, Ears, Frek and others that would later end up starting the SAW Crew. I believe in the beginning SAW stood for Southside Always Wins.
When did you first get into photography?
My father was a photographer for some of those old Hispanic newspapers from Little Village like El Heraldo and La Raza and then later he also did work for the Chicago Tribune. He would always get press passes for all kinds of concerts and sporting events. Again, although I was in grammar school I was tall so he would get me press credentials and I would work as his assistant. He usually just gave me one of his cameras and he would tell me to shoot whatever I wanted. He didn’t really care what I shot but later when he would develop my roles of film he would talk to me about what it was I was shooting and what I was trying to show or capture with my shots. I learned alot about photography from him. He was always very encouraging when it came to that.
What equipment are you currently using?
I was brought up using Nikon because that’s what my father used so I have a few Nikon’s right now but I usually use my D7000 with a Tamron 18-270mm lens.
When did you begin documenting Chicago’s artistic culture?
-Why did you feel a need to document the art?
I’ve always had an interest in graffiti. I was a whack writer back in the 90’s and I say whack because even though I knew how to and was decent at it, I always chose other ways to get into trouble but I always had a lot of friends that were writers. Some of my friends were CAB (Cole Ass Bombers) and BUS (Bombers Under Siege) and I also had many acquaintances that were all graffiti writers. I started documenting about 6 years ago as a hobby. I still consider it somewhat of a hobby but with social media I guess it turned into something a little more serious. At first I just wanted to take cool shots with my phone for Instagram, but people started to like them. I then started noticing everyone was starting to use pro cameras and Photoshop so I said let’s see what happens when I do that. The results were that I got noticed even more.
How does it work with when you document artists?
It’s not as easy as you might think. In order to work with some of the people I’ve had the honor of working with you have to go through a kind of background check. You first have to work with someone good and show you can take good shots but before that happens people have to know they can trust you. Trust is huge in the graffiti world. Phone calls will be made and questions will be asked about you. These guys have to know that you’re not going to burn them in order for you to get a few likes or a few followers on social media. There’s a lot you have to keep your mouth shut about. There’s a lot you can’t show everyone. There are so many people out there that are so thirsty for a push that they work with any clown that has a camera. I don’t recommend that but I also don’t control what others do. Anyway, I’ve proven to be someone that can be trusted and can take a good shot so I get phone calls and texts from people wanting to work together and for the most part but not always my texts and phone calls to people usually get answered. I came up in the streets and I still live by a lot of the codes of the streets and that counts to a lot of people.
Being able to work with different artists, have you been able to develop any really good relationships?
Yeah I’m pretty cool with a few artists and I even consider some of them to be my real friends and not just acquaintances. It’s been a real pleasure and honor to shoot a lot of the people I admire as artists but to say I have a favorite or favorites might be a diss to some and kissing ass to others so I’ll just say that you can see who I enjoy working with by paying attention to who I work with the most.
You now write for 12ozprophet. How did that begin? How has the experience begin?
I first started contributing to 12ozProphet three years ago after they had a call for people to apply to become a part of the Dirty Dozen Crew as either a writer or photographer through their Instagram page and my boy Tubz tagged me on the post. I decided to give it a shot and a couple of months later they contacted me and the rest is history. Being a part of the 12ozProphet Team can be really good at times and it’s a cool platform to help push some of the graffiti scene from Chicago.
Do you write for any other blogs as well?
I don’t write for any other blogs but I do contribute my photographs to other graffiti/art sites and also to some of the sites for spray paint companies.
How has social media and photo websites help push graffiti/street art forward over the years?
In the past you had to be a part of the scene or at least know where to look to see any type of graffiti/street art, now all you have to do is follow your favorite artists from anywhere around the world and you can see the last piece they painted a few seconds after they’ve finished painting with the push of a button. I’d say that’s a big help in pushing and promoting the art.
Do you think graffiti will always have a bad name?
I think some people prefer it that way so yeah kind of. There are so many cool things nowadays that are being watered down (and in some ways I might be a part of that) but thankfully there are some people out there that are still crushing steel and bombing and as long as there are still people out there putting in that type of illegal work than there’s always going to be that stigma that comes with the word “graffiti”.
For those who continue to bash on graffiti and street-art, what are some positives that you think graffiti and street art bring forward?
I remember reading somewhere recently that having a mural on the side of a home actually raises the value of the home and then there are so many businesses I go into now that have the interiors and or exteriors painted by graffiti or street artists and they’re getting paid for that so good for them. So many of the people that were writers back in the day and lived in the hood went on to use graffiti as an alternative to the gang lifestyle and have now become productive citizens and professionals in many different fields (mostly artistic but not all).
What’s next for you in 2016?
I’m going to continue to do my part to push the graffiti art scene from Chicago and anywhere else I visit. I’m also going to continue to take great shots and I’m going to continue having fun doing it all.