Accessibility is really what Mystic is all about. Even the relatively quick drive down to Connecticut (under four hours) was an easy treat compared to a flight and cabs to our Vegas hotel. More importantly, I got to chat with photographers, have more meaningful discussions with them, and probably forged some life-long contacts. Likewise for the speakers. Because the Mystic Marriott (which is actually in Groton, CT) was our home for the week, everyone headed to the bar for dinner and drinks. So we were able to more than brush shoulders with the speakers -- actually shake their hands, pick their brains, and converse with them candidly over a cocktail. To me, this intimacy is unattainable at WPPI, where speakers are miniature specs on the stage with booming mic-ed voices amongst a room that sometimes seats 1,000 photographers. I even said to Denise how nice it is to actually see their faces on stage! WPPI has it's place, of course, and I certainly will attend it again, but Mystic is a little less overwhelming, so I think I retained more information.
The day-long workshop Denise and I did with the amazing Joe McNally was also fantastic due to the small size. He is extremely approachable anyway, but his strategy for the class by breaking us up into small groups (us Canon users were out numbered, with only three of us) and tasking us with unabashedly helping each other, created an optimal learning environment. Knowledge was freely flowing between everyone and no one felt uncomfortable asking questions. Joe's wife Annie and his assistant Cali were also open books. Kits of Joe's gear were there for us to play with, too. No pun intended since it was a lighting workshop, but it was very cool to see light bulbs go off for some folks, including myself. Learning from Joe was a real honor. His career is something I can only dream of. Knowing his background, I think I embraced the use of artificial light more willingly. Using flash has always felt like going against the photojournalistic grain in my body. Joe showed me what can be done with light -- subtle yet deliberate, technical yet simple.
It is evident that Walter and Angela, the founders of Mystic Seminars, work extremely hard to make the workshop enjoyable for everyone -- photographers, speakers, and vendors. Another reason to love Mystic. However, while growth is exciting and, of course, I want to see them succeed, I hope the smallness and intimacy remains. There is definitely something special about that.