Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps College
Bear Bull was one of many Native translators and informants that worked on the project. In volume eighteen of the text, Curtis credits various Blackfoot informants for the volume but only includes one of them in the portfolio. His names was Kyaiyi-stamik or Bear Bull, and was also known as Sótai-na’, Rain Chief. According to Curtis, he was born in 1859 between the Battle River and the Saskatchewan River. On the portfolio plate title page Curtis captions the image as illustrating “an ancient Blackfoot method of arranging the hair ” and one sees a striking image of man photographed in profile, an elaborate topknot rising from the top of his forehead. The hair color of the top knot is much darker than the rest of his hair and suggests it might have been made from a wig or hairpiece common in so many of Curtis’ photographs or at the very least is undermined by his frequent use of a wig. Bear Bull was photographed in profile, in part to draw attention to the outline of the hair but also to capture a detailed outline of his facial features. It is a beautiful photograph, and like many of the profiles included in The North American Indian, this shot strives to address the ethnologists’ interest in Native American physiognomy. Though Curtis makes no direct reference to physiognomy in his text, it is clear, particularly when compared with the earlier highly pictorialist profiles found in several of the early volumes, that his interest in the profile is an ongoing theme, and there are many examples of models shot both frontally and in profile, in keeping with the ethnologists desire for objective observation.