SEVERAL weeks ago Monitor photo editor Neal J. Menschel was hunched over a light table looking at a new batch of color slides from a recent trip.He had already had a long, quickly moving, 12-hour day. He had dealt with several projects snarled in logistics, made some international phone calls to nail down photo assignments, had layout discussions with editors and other photographers, had a quick lunch, and attended more meetings. Now, finally, as the sun had gone down, he'd had a chance to look at those tiny transparencies that either become gold to a "shooter" or go over like a lead balloon. After scanning the slides for a few minutes, Neal looked up like a kid at Disneyland and provided the obvious but quintessential reason all professional shooters lug equipment anywhere in the world. "I love taking photographs," he said, grinning. On this and the following pages, you'll see the year-end selections from Monitor photographers who love the exhausting art of looking and clicking. In 1991 they traveled to 19 countries and 19 states while providing over 1,500 photographs for this newspaper. They shot a little over 2,500 rolls of film (90,000 frames) and wiggled their way past countless X-ray machines in airports around the world. On a trip to the Middle East, staff photographer Robert Harbison negotiated his way through 15 security posts at airports. "Lead bags really don't protect the film from the X-rays," he explained, "so I put all my exposed film in a plastic bag and try to get the security people to just look at the bag and let it through." SAID Monitor design director John Van Pelt: "The staff provides about 52 percent of the total number of photos used in the paper, and the rest comes from photo agencies, freelancers, and the use of free photos." On a trip a photographer might carry three camera bodies, five lenses (ranging from 20 mm to 400 mm), and maybe two strobe lights for indoor shooting. With other gear, the weight quickly climbs to 50 pounds. On her trip to the Galapagos Islands, staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman took an underwater camera in addition to her usual equipment. Last year, one or more Monitor photographers were on the road for 210 days, shooting roughly about 40 rolls of film a week. All photographers carry notebooks to record names, locations, and other information. But sometimes in the rush to get photographs in crowded or even hostile places, there isn't time to record the data. This explains why some photos appear in the Monitor without complete information. The professional dedication of photographers requires domestic tolerance, too. One Monitor photographer, who had been on the road on several successive trips, arrived home and, in talking with his wife, inadvertently referred to their home as "the place where you live." She quickly reminded him that he lived there, too.