Biography

A prior version of this biography was posted on Susan’s original web site way back in 1996. We’ve updated it, edited it, and added some pictures of her that roughly correspond with the dates. Other stories about Susan are available in the Biography section.

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My name is Ted Stresen-Reuter and Susan Sexton is my mother. What follows is a combination of my recollections of what it was like growing up with Susan and her thoughts on what it is that makes her stand apart from the rest of the equine photographers. Although she may not see it or agree with it, what she has accomplished in the last 30 years is nothing short of astonishing.

Susan Sexton, age 14

Susan Sexton, age 14

Susan Mary Arnold (later Sexton) was born October 12, 1938 to Gustav T. E. Arnold and Frances Margaret (Pitt) Arnold of Barrington, IL where she lived until 1969.

Susan with her family in October, 1964

Susan with her family in October, 1964

While in Barrington she married Alfred P. Stresen-Reuter and had 3 children: Margaret (Meg), Stephanie, and Gustave (Ted). In 1970 she and her 3 children moved to Ripon, WI where she finished her degree in French and met her second husband, Tom Sexton (pictured below). Shortly thereafter, the whole family moved to Phoenix, AZ where her career as a photographer would begin.

Susan Sexton, circa 1976

Susan Sexton, circa 1976

WHEN I WAS ABOUT 12 YEARS OLD, Susan worked as a secretary in order to support me and my 2 sisters. She received a camera for Christmas (a Vivitar with a zoom lens, if I’m not mistaken) and then borrowed $100 for an enlarger and other dark room equipment. Needing a subject on which to practice her new art, she brought her camera to work with her, strapped over her shoulder as she rode her dirt bike to work at a horse stable in Scottsdale, AZ.

Susan's-very-pretty!

Susan Sexton, circa 1980

I CAN RECALL several Saturday mornings when she would wake up with the sun (or before it) in order to go to the stables in Scottsdale, AZ and shoot shows and/or friends riding their horses. Occasionally, she would drag me along. I soon caught the photography bug too (which has since transformed into Web page lust). Eventually, she decided to try her hand at selling her images to the riders. She met with enough success to pay for the hobby. But, when you compare answering phones and typing letters to shooting and selling photographs of some of the most beautiful and majestic creatures ever to walk the planet, the hobby quickly turned into serious business.

Susan-&-Tom-SEXTON!

Susan & Tom Sexton, circa 1972

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF WHAT SHE LEARNED working for others, she managed to organize her time (and family) so that she could pursue her dream of becoming the best horse photographer in the U.S., if not the world. Within a few years my sisters and I found ourselves accompanying Susan on weekend jaunts to neighboring towns to shoot horse shows. Susan and I would shoot and develop the film (often staying up all night in an impromptu darkroom set up in a hotel bathroom), Steph and Meg (my two sisters) would sell the images, sometimes enthusiastically, others, as would be expected of any teenager, begrudgingly.

3-Arnolds-plus

Susan, sister Judy, brother Peter and his family, circa 1985

WHEN I TURNED 16, Susan broke the news that she was selling the house, buying a mobile home in which to install an automated photo lab, and basically going on the road to make it big as a horse photographer. My sisters and I were invited to join her. We all had mixed feelings about the endeavor. I just wanted to finish high school. Meg and Steph just didn’t want to lose their home. Fortunately for me, I was able to go live with my Dad in Chicago where I graduated from Lincoln Park High in 1983. However, before coming to Chicago, we, Susan, Meg, Steph, and I made a few excursions to New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado in our green Ford F-350 with a 27 foot mobile home, fully equipped with a color processor/dark room in the back.

Susan was an avid reader. I remember her reading an entire novel in a matter of days.

Susan was an avid reader. I remember her reading an entire novel in a matter of days.

THIS WAS THE SUMMER OF 1980. The Radio Shack TRS-80 was losing ground to IBMs and for all intents and purposes, VHS was beating out Beta in the video format. Technology was having call waiting and cable television. The color processor installed in the back of the trailer was a behemoth of ceramic rollers, stainless steel chemical tanks, unforgiving stainless steel gears, and a towering, scorching hot stainless steel dryer used to dry the paper as it rolled out of the processor, all enclosed in a chest high, plywood box (except for the towering dryer stuck on one end) and it seemed to us to be a marvel of human ingenuity. Little did we know the revolution the microchip would bring in the years to come. In any case, we were it! We were free. The road was our home, the sun was warm, the past was gone, and life was good. Susan may not have realized her dream of taking the world’s best photographs of horses, but it sure did seem that a town called Success was on the horizon.

Susan with her sister Judy, two very entrepreneurial women

Susan with her sister Judy, two very entrepreneurial women

IN JULY OF THE FOLLOWING YEAR Susan decided to move to the East coast. She had family there and having decided to focus on dressage, she would have more opportunities to work. She lived in Framingham, MA for about 9 years. After the first year the mobile processing lab was installed in the basement of her home in Framingham and there, a respectable business, and reputation as one of the best, began to blossom. The mobile lab had been a great experience for Susan. It taught her to focus on her goals as well as the fundamentals of photography and what makes good business sense.

Susan Sexton, circa 1990

Susan Sexton, circa 1990

IN 1990 she moved to Warrenton, VA. Along the road Susan has accomplished the following:

  • In a recent survey of 26 horse magazines, her pictures could be found in 20 of them.
  • In 1 year of any given magazine, she will have pictures in 8 or 9 of the issues.
  • In the Stallion issue of The Chronicle (circulation 30,000), she has more photographs than any other single photographer.
  • This is also true in Dressage Today and Hunter and Sport Horse stallion issues.
  • Original Galloping Graphics logo

    Original Galloping Graphics logo

    Her pictures are regularly used in books, calendars, and catalogs, as well as product advertising and packaging.

  • She has over 3000 slides of people in nature and a wide variety of nature subjects in general.
  • Her clients include Purina, Ariat, Adequan, Eiser’s and Wiese.
  • She has approximately 50,000 negatives of horses.
  • She has unknown quantities of digital images filling several hard drives, CDs and DVDs.
What were they doing?!?!

Susan and daughter Stephanie, circa 1979

IN 2001 Susan moved to Chicago, IL and took the plunge into digital photography. Her move to Chicago was inspired by her desire to work with her daughter, Stephanie, who had just spent about a year working with her on the east coast but moved back to her home, Chicago.

Moving to Chicago was, to say the least, a difficult transition due primarily to her conversion to an all digital work-flow: film was replaced with hard drives (and backups… did we ever need backups of our original negatives or slides?), you suddenly did your own film processing (and retouching), and delivery was frequently via email or an FTP site.

Susan in her kitchen in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Susan in her kitchen in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The costs involved in the transition were devastating, but Susan persevered and around 2005 went into semi-retirement when she moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where her sister Judy lived and runs San Miguel Rentals, a vacation rental agency. It was during this period that she may have produced some of her best work. Inspired by the brightly colored hues of San Miguel, the tradition, and the history surrounding her, she focused more and more on producing art, not just fine, “commercial” equine photography.

Daughter Meg, Sister Judy, Daughter Steph, Susan, Sister-in-law Ruth, Fall 2008

Daughter Meg, Sister Judy, Daughter Steph, Susan, Sister-in-law Ruth, Fall 2008

In the summer of 2008, while traveling around the U.S., Susan was diagnosed with Leukemia. Seeking the best health care money could buy, she moved back to the U.S., to Cave Creek, AZ where she lived with both of her daughters until her death, November 11, 2009.

Susan, grandson Lucas, and son Ted (me)

Susan, grandson Lucas, and son Ted (me), November 2008

Buildings collapse, civilizations crumble, but data live forever. It is my sincerest wish that her work, preserved to some extent on this web site, live forever so that my children can understand her vision and of course, the upbringing that made me who I am.

Thank you, Susan, for never giving up.

Gustave (Ted) Stresen-Reuter