Our Best Shots

THE best photographers know their equipment so well they can forget it. Lens openings, shutter speeds, even the computer-driven cameras of today are forgotten when the seasoned eye sees what it wants.

The camera is raised like a beam of light, revealing the character of the photographer, which can't be hidden or forgotten.

For Monitor staff photographers Neal Menschel, Melanie Stetson Freeman, R. Norman Matheny, Robert Harbison, and assistants Bill Grant and Marianne Le Pelley, the beam of light sees much hope and dignity in a struggling world.

"Monitor photographs are seldom spot news," says photo editor Menschel, "but often thematic, with a lot of faith in individual human spirit."

The best Monitor photos of 1992 reveal - as do all good Monitor photos - a desire not to leave readers with a sense of helplessness. Nor do they sugar-coat troubles or dwell on the superficial.

Monitor photos may show children in Somalia or Mozambique, where starvation is evident. But the Monitor images try to look beyond the horror of deprivation to the more difficult task of capturing the smallest ray of hope.

The objective is to leave a child or mother with her dignity intact, a motivation that also compels all international relief efforts.

"We can't inspire people to take action," says Ms. Freeman, "unless we show the problem. But there has to be a sense that there is a way out. It may be too much to ask of a photograph all the time, but this is what we look for."

In a world often crowded with sensational and manipulative images, the thematic summation of an event, or the portrait of a human being, should be direct and clear.

If, indeed, these photographs hint at the spiritual nature of man, then they are fulfilling the mandate of the founder of this newspaper.

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