Some say that competition is good for us. In technological circles and business in general, competition between rival companies is good for advancing our knowledge and expertise.
But what about competition in the arts? Is there a valid reason for allowing competition to be part of what you do? I think so.
As much as I personally have a big problem with photography competitions (more on this later), I can appreciate that as creative people, we photographers need to have a sense of drive in what we do. Creating good photographs isn't something that happens by just going out once in a while with our cameras and making a few snaps: there is often effort - a lot of it - applied in the pursuit of trying to create good work. Sure, talent comes into it, but I've met many talented people in my life who never complete anything and through laziness, never move forward with their art. Conversely, I've also met less-talented people out there whom, through a sense of drive and pushing themselves forward, are able to move their photography further. Talent is one thing, but drive or lack of, is another and you need to have talent and drive to move your work forward in general.
Any vehicle you can find, which will help move your photography forward (or give you a sense of drive) is a good thing. It could be; setting up a project, an exhibition, creating a book. Anything that has a goal attached to it will help focus your efforts and stop you from meandering lost and rudderless around in a mix of 'not sure what to do, or where I'm going'. So projects and goals are important to help you move forward with your photography
I have a dilemma though about competitions. Rating art is a bit like saying you like blue better than pink, or that vanilla ice cream is better than a cat. Fish are good but bananas are better. Photography competitions are meaningless, and the only result one can look for getting out of one is the pursuit of focus in what one does. Winning is irrelevant and meaningless. The focus that a competition can give you, is the real prize.
Life is full of competitive forces. Getting promotion at work, being first in the queue to get off the bus, first to get tickets for a concert before it sells out. Life is a competitive race and as a species we need competition to survive. Our genes and species didn't get here, and neither did you, without our ancestors striving to make this happen. So in a way, competition is built into the core fabric of every human being, and every living thing on this planet.
If I were you, and you are thinking of entering a competition: think long and hard about your motivations to win one. Winning is really meaningless. But the focus that it may give you in honing your skills, working towards something is more valuable than any kudos you may get from the winning.
Art was never about competition. And art shouldn't be measured or compared. But competitions do have their place: if they give you a sense of focus and drive to move forward with your work, then they are no bad thing. Just remember that winning them has nothing to do with your art, because art is personal. You do it for you. You don't do it to 'win'.