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For most, a life on Bitcoin is a short experiment. For some of Pensacola, Florida's homeless, though, the currency has become a lifeline, making up the gap that low-paying or intermittent jobs and public assistance can't fill. Wired profiles the men and women who have developed an alternative virtual economy, raising charity money through Bitcoin and making small amounts of money through Mechanical Turk-like jobs that pay in Bitcoin rather than requiring a bank account. Though Bitcoin still isn't widely accepted, services like Gyft can turn the currency into gift cards for food or other necessities, and mobile phones and computers are affordable even for some people who can't make a monthly rent payment. Jesse Angle, who earns money by completing simple online tasks for Bitcoin, says the system is less risky and embarrassing than panhandling. He and his friends, he says, are "kind of the homeless geeks."

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Time once more for a look at the animal kingdom and our interactions with the countless species that share our planet. Today's photos include Iranian dog owners under pressure, a bloom of mayflies, Kim Jong-un visiting Breeding Station No. 621, animals fleeing recent fires and floods, and a dachshund receiving acupuncture therapy. These images and many others are part of this roundup of animals in the news from recent weeks, seen from the perspectives of their human observers, companions, captors, and caretakers, part of an ongoing series on animals in the news. [38 photos]

James Hyslop, a Scientific Specialist at Christie's auction house holds a complete sub-fossilised elephant bird egg on March 27, 2013 in London, England. The massive egg, from the now-extinct elephant bird sold for $101,813 at Christie's "Travel, Science and Natural History" sale, on April 24, 2013 in London. Elephant birds were wiped out several hundred years ago. The egg, laid on the island of Madagascar, is believed to date back before the 17th century. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)     

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David Walter Banks

Florida isn’t like other places. In fact, in some ways, Florida isn’t even like Florida. For centuries, from the time the 16th-century Spanish explorer Ponce de León first landed in Florida on his (perhaps apocryphal) search for the Fountain of Youth right up to the present day, people from the world over have looked to that large, water-logged peninsula jutting toward the Caribbean as a kind of fathomless fantasy land. Or, as photographer David Walter Banks nicely phrases it below, as “an epicenter of escapism.” Of course, no state as large and as diverse as Florida (or, for that matter, as small and as seemingly homogeneous as, say, Delaware) is ever just one thing. But again, as Banks suggests, the myth of Florida — the Florida of our tacitly agreed-upon collective imaginings — endures not because of, but despite, the state’s colossally variegated landscapes, cultures, communities and attractions. In his at-once fond and forthright portraits, Banks manages to illustrate much of the Floridian myth, while deepening the mystery of the Sunshine State’s singularly odd appeal.

A long-standing interest in escapism and seeking the surreal in the every day led me to train my lens on the manifestations of those ideas in American society. Eventually and inevitably, this practice led me to Florida, an epitome and epicenter of escapism in the United States.

In 2012, 1 in 4 Americans, or 89.3 million people visited the state of Florida, bringing in over $71.8 billion in tourism spending to an industry that directly employs well over one million individuals. Even after the economy crashed in 2008, Florida’s tourism numbers continued to climb in what is estimated as the most popular tourist destination in the world.

I am interested in the people who comprise these statistics, the environments in which they immerse themselves and the altered realities both the people and places project. I seek not to make a critique, nor to create a comprehensive factual documentation. I aim to create a vicarious experience–that of a tourist seeking fantasy.

My fascination with Florida started at a young age. Like so many Americans, my family would load up our wood-paneled Chevrolet station wagon every year and head down the highway toward the ‘Sunshine State’ for our annual Summer vacation. We would stay in a stereotypical stucco condo building on the beach called the Summerhouse. It was there that I produced some of my fondest childhood memories. It was there that I built sandcastles with my mom and dug giant holes with my dad for no apparent reason. It was there that I first met an older girl and hitchhiked to a club before I was laughed away at the door for my prepubescent appearance – I was 12, after all. It was there that I snuck off to smoke cigarettes stolen from a friend’s parents during my height of preteen angst.

These family trips were something that I looked forward to every year. I eagerly awaited the escape from our everyday life, even if only for a brief while. It is the memories of this escape that keep luring me back.

The theory of collective memory refers to the shared pool of information amongst a group of people. As Americans, our collective memory of Florida has become almost as much of a folk tale as it is based on reality. My recollections from childhood and adolescence are not necessarily how it actually looked and felt, but instead the world that I constructed from those fragmented memories. Such is our collective idea of the state, which has been fed and fueled by the masterminds of advertising and marketing.

Reality, on the other hand, is a different matter all together. Perhaps our fantasized version of Florida does exist, but if so, it is masked under layers of lines and litter, overpriced tourist traps and drunk teens who would steal the shirt off your back – This literally happened to me while photographing Spring Break. If anything is my charge while on the road for this project, it is peeling back these layers.

David Walter Banks is a conceptually based documentary and portrait photographer living in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter @dwbanksphoto.

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They keep things out or enclose them within. They're symbols of power, and a means of control. They're canvases for art, backdrops for street theater, and placards for political messages. They're just waiting for when nobody's looking to receive graffiti. Walls of all kinds demarcate our lives. -- Lane Turner (41 photos total).
Note: You can now follow @bigpicture on the social network App.net, where you own your own data. If you'd like to try it out, we've also got some free invites for our readers.
Workers clean the curtain wall of the 40-story National Bank of Economic Social Development in Rio de Janeiro on December 12, 2012. (Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)     

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The 25th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest is under way, and entries will be accepted for another six weeks, until June 30, 2013. First prize winner will receive a 10-day Galapagos expedition for two. National Geographic was once more kind enough to allow me to share some of the early entries with you here, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Photos and captions by the photographers. [42 photos]

A fennec fox walks against the wind in Morocco. The fennec, or desert fox, is a small nocturnal fox found in the Sahara Desert in North Africa. (© Francisco Mingorance/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)    

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