In a Nutshell: Five fetching photo books with MENDO publisher Gunifort Uwambaga
By carefully curating a selection of visually stunning titles, Amsterdam-based bookshop and publishing company Mendo has become known as a candy-store for book aficionados.
When Gunifort Uwambaga walked into Mendo for the first time as a finance student at the University of Amsterdam, he had no idea that it was going to change the entire course of his future. “I immediately fell in love with it,” he says. “It was completely black, all the books were beautifully presented, and the lighting was perfect. It was like entering a club or restaurant rather than a bookshop,” he recounts. After speaking with the founder Roy Rietstap who was on the shop floor at the time, Uwambaga started working part-time at Mendo alongside his studies the following week.
After graduating from his masters, Uwambaga thought he should put his studying to good use, and went to work for one of the largest private banks in the Netherlands. But he continued to work at Mendo on the weekends. “It led to some interesting encounters. Some of my clients would walk into the store and be like, ‘why does my banker need a side job?’” he says, laughing. “This made me question why I couldn’t let go of Mendo, and I realized it was because doing what I was doing at the bank wasn’t making me happy.” As a result, Uwambaga decided to go and speak to the bookstore founders about his vision for its future of the business. In a short space of time, he quit his job and became a partner of the bookstore alongside Joost Albronda and Joeri Worm.
While Mendo may have been the catalyst that inspired Uwambaga to change career path, his love of books dates back to childhood. “I’m originally from Rwanda and I fled to the Netherlands as a refugee when I was a young boy,” he says. “My mum was keen for me and my brother to learn Dutch as quickly as possible, so every Wednesday she would take us to the library and let us pick out five books to read.” Initially being more of a comics fan than lengthy prose, Uwambaga had a deal with his mum that he was allowed two comics for every book he took out.
“In this current age there is this increasing desire for curation and tangibility.”
This early adoration of graphic novels perfectly explains why he was so keen to work at Mendo, as visual appeal is one of the key factors the store takes into consideration when selecting new printed titles. Uwambaga says that having this specific focus on aesthetically pleasing products has helped Mendo survive in the digital era, as he believes that “in this current age there is this increasing desire for curation and tangibility.” But while the company celebrate printed matter, Uwambaga is keen to point out that Mendo also embraces digital and is not an anti-internet company.
“Through our publishing company, we translate a lot of what’s relevant on the internet into book form, and a lot of the people we collaborate with have strong social media followings,” he explains. ”A key example is This Is NOT A F*cking Street Style Book, a book Mendo published in 2018 in collaboration with renowned American fashion photographer Adam Katz Sinding. “Over the past ten years fashion has shifted its focus from haute couture and high-end designs to streetwear. After looking at our fashion department in the store, we realized that it was filled with books on Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dior, but that it didn’t really have anything that explored this new zeitgeist within the industry,” Uwambaga explains. “So with Adam’s photos we set out to make a book that showcased the most relevant designers, models, and brands working in fashion today.”
Uwambaga also loves the fact that the internet is allowing young people access to information that inspires them to be creative. “Young kids are exposed to so much amazing stuff, and they can find answers to pretty much anything they want online. This leads them to the point where they can make a book, or a contribution to a book project way earlier than I think was previously possible,” he says. “We recently published a book called MOAM: Contemporary Fashion and Arts in Amsterdam, and there were stylists and makeup artists involved while they were still studying.” With such an abundance of young, vibrant talent in Amsterdam, Uwambaga seems confident that the future of the city’s creative scene is in safe hands.
Gunifort Uwambaga selects his current top five photo books
“Last month we had a signing session with Daniel Arsham at Mendo, which was a great honor because I feel like Daniel is one of the most important artists of the moment. In his self-titled book, he presents us with contemporary objects that have seemingly been weathered by time. These “future relics” are mesmerizing to me. I love to see that every little detail in this book has been given great consideration, from the sliding clock on the cover to the introductory letter from the Arsham lab. Rarely have I seen a book executed with this much care.”
Congo by Pieter Henket
“Two years ago Pieter Henket and his partner Roger Inniss passed by our store. We ended up chatting past closing time, and I was deeply inspired by the adventurous and boldness of Pieter and his work. We received the first copies of his book Congo in October, 2018. I opened it and fell in love immediately. Congo is an enchanting and mysterious place, and despite its atrocious history, the people remain utterly resilient. I am in awe that Pieter was able to capture the beauty, creativity, and perseverance of the country. For me, this is an important book!”
“Nathan Williams is the founder of Kinfolk Magazine and his book The Eye an exploration of the creative directors of the past and present who have influenced his career. Bringing over 90 of them into the spotlight, the book explores how they have developed their vision and how they then translate that into communicating visual ideas. A few of the subjects include Yohji Yamamoto, Azzedine Alaïa, Jefferson Hack, and Grace Coddington.”
David Hockney, A Bigger Book by Taschen (Collector’s Edition)
“This book compiles 60 years of David Hockney’s work and includes some of my favorite paintings, including A Bigger Splash and A Bigger Grand Canyon. However, my absolute favorite thing about it is that it contains the digital experimentation work that David Hockney made using an iPad.”
“The latest book we’ve published at Mendo is called MOAM: Contemporary Fashion & Arts in Amsterdam. We asked 100 Dutch creatives from across fashion, art, and photography to show and tell us through text and images what fashion and art in Amsterdam is for them. The resulting book is our ode to the contemporary Dutch creative sector”
Gunifort Uwambaga is a co-owner of MENDO, a publishing company and bookstore that focuses on visually driven publications. Based in Amsterdam, the flagship store stocks a range of titles that have been specially curated by MENDO’s experienced team. To learn more about the books that MENDO stock, visit their site or follow them on Instagram. This profile of Uwambaga was produced as part of our new content series In a Nutshell. Head over to read more articles where creatives around the world talk us through objects that inspire their work.
Text: Emily May