© Michael Nichols / National Geographic
For more than a decade, Michael "Nick" Nichols of National Geographic magazine has been photographing what no one had ever seen or will ever see again: a land where man has not been. In a remote corner of Central Africa, he and conservationist Michael Fay formed a unique partnership with the goal of discovering and documenting one of the world's last undisturbed habitats, a place of "naive" gorillas and chimpanzees with no experience of man, of wide elephant trails leading to secret congregating areas, of leopards, dwarf crocodiles, vipers, and leeches, of a mythical ape known to Pygmies as kooloo-kamba, and a legendary Congo Basin dinosaur called mokele-mbembe.
Their efforts were capped with a trek like no other in history, a 456-day "walk" that covered some 2,000 miles across a checkerboard patch of untouched Africa, leading them to the Atlantic coast of Gabon, where Nichols photographed yet one more thing he'd never seen before: surfing hippos. Because of the men's efforts, large sections of the area have been turned into national parks, offering this wild place protection from loggers, miners, and other symptoms of modern civilization. And yet, in an irony that does not escape Nichols, it was one of the hallmark acts of civilization, the creation of art, that allowed him to capture and bring this place back to all of us -- to see it, to feel it, and know it as he did.