National Geographic (search) magazine, known for its breathtaking photography, decided this time a picture wasn't worth a thousand words — or even six.

The single-topic September issue, on the complex problems and promise of Africa, is the magazine's first cover without a photograph since 1959 — and only the second since it began using cover photos in 1943.

The white cover is dominated by a bold, brown word — "Africa" — and below that, "Whatever you thought, think again."

The unusual choice was made by the magazine's new editor in chief, Chris Johns (search), who was a career photographer for 30 years, spending much of that time in Africa. It's the first complete issue published under his direction.

Johns said he wanted to "highlight astonishing stories of renewal, ingenuity and potential heard through unfiltered African voices. These stories counterbalance the bleak headlines of civil war, disease, poverty and extinction."