'Strip Search' bares magic of Breaunna

A prominent art critic says the best art book of the holiday season is a 7-pound photo spread of Vegas: a two-volume, 428-page behemoth that's 11 years in the making.

The book is "Strip Search" by Albert Watson, who has done Rolling Stone covers, posters for "Kill Bill" and "The Sopranos," ads for Chanel and Gap, and wedding photography for Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.

"It's easily my favorite art book of the season," David Schonauer, former American Photo magazine editor, says in a Huffington Post review.

In the book, coming out Dec.   1, Watson captures Vegas in portraits, fashion, panoramas and action shots.

But Schonauer says the star of the book is a "charismatic dominatrix named Breaunna."

On Monday, I tracked down Watson, a Scotsman who lives in New York, and he explained the magic of Breaunna.

"In the Gold Coast casino bar, I found her," Watson says. "She had a leopard-print jumpsuit on and high-heeled boots, and Bettie Page hair.

"It was her reaction to the camera that was shocking. She had natural instinct."

Watson shot her. The next night, he went to a different locale. Breaunna snuck up to him wearing a platinum wig, 4-inch nails and "Asian girl" makeup -- a "dragon woman" look, he calls it.

"She said, 'Hi, how are you?' I didn't recognize her. It turned out to be her again -- Breaunna."

Mystified, he shot her four more days.

"She's a chameleon," he says.

"Strangely enough, she didn't have that much physical contact with clients.

"She had a client where she had to be at this motel room every day at 2 o'clock, and for one hour, she had to blow smoke in his face."

Breaunna later moved to L.A. and is now doing something "more normal."

Watson began shooting Vegas in 1999 because he craved something less traditional than the Monaco book he had just wrapped.

Watson knows Vegas well. He saw Elvis at the Hilton in 1975 ("I couldn't believe how good he was"), and Ike & Tina open for Bill Cosby, and Diana Ross, and pretty much every Vegas act since.

He says Vegas shouldn't change a single thing. He loves the professionalism of everything, and the food, shows, people-watching and aura. If he could steal away one thing to New York, it would be his favorite show, "O."

"New Yorkers are very snobby about theater and things like that, and I think the 'O' show would do pretty well in New York."

If he could dictate the art style of the next Strip casino?

"It would be great if the next big hotel in Vegas was The Forbidden City -- a completely amazing Chinese city."

For photos, check AlbertWatson.com.


Kelly Clarkson surprised sister Alyssa by flying her and 10 friends here; they saw Thunder From Down Under. ... Amy Smart and HGTV's Carter Oosterhouse dined Sunday at Strip House, then saw "Peepshow" and met Holly Madison, Josh Strickland and crew. Saturday, they ate at Strip House and saw "KA." ... After Usher's concert Saturday, he partied at club Bank with Jermaine Dupri, Floyd Mayweather and others. ... Whoopi Goldberg celebrated her 55th birthday at Tao with granddaughter Amarah (who was turning 21) and other family. ... Jessie Lowndes of "90210" partied Saturday with girlfriends at Pure after eating at Social House; Sunday she took them to eat at Ago and party at Vanity. ... Rapper Too Short hung at Crown on Saturday for blues guitarist (and former pimp!) Fillmore Slim's birthday.

Doug Elfman's column appears on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail delfman@reviewjournal.com. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.