It’s a really great question. I’ve been struggling with ambivilance about competitions for some time because of this very question. I took up photography (again) for myself, and find I don’t like the feeling of wondering how an image will do in competition when I’m planning a shot, or even thinking about what category it might fit in. There’s so much subjectivity in art, and the things I’m naturally drawn to just don’t do well in competitions (minimalism, negative space, etc.) We’ve had some wonderful judges and I definitely have learned a lot from them, but I’d like to learn more from the folks who took the images I’m looking at, too. I did non-comp last year, and enjoyed it so much more. (I follow The Photographic Eye on YouTube and have seen these videos. He is always so thought-provoking. I also follow Jamie Windsor and Sean Tucker for the same reason.)
The best group photographic experience I’ve had in the last few years was the composite class taught by Charley, one of our judges. We students were given instruction and parameters, and the images to use, then we’d gather together and look at everyone’s images. We’d talk through their process and what they learned, etc. It was the learning together and sharing that made the class so special.
Regarding the forum, I agree with those who posted earlier that it would be great if we could receive alerts when new topics post, or topics we’re following have updates. If you’ve ever used Microsoft’s SharePoint, you know you can customize alerts and receive a notification when anything posts, when specific things post, etc., and at the frequency you desire. I check our forum periodically, but quickly get out of the habit when there’s nothing new. Heck, it would be great if the forum just put the most recent activity at the top of the forum page.
Thanks so much for asking the question, and to those who responded.