'I think that being naked is liberating. It's divine'

MAKE of this what you will. In my wallet, right now, is a business card with two photos on it. Both are of naked blonde women; one is leaning back against a green kitchen wall, cheeks flushed red, her attention apparently on something out of shot, below her waist. The other is staring provocatively at the camera, red lips slightly open, against a leopard-skin backdrop. Her breasts are being fondled by a toy monkey.

If this card fell out of my wallet, you might assume that I go to prostitutes, or have a voracious appetite for pornography. Neither is true. The card belongs to Jannica Honey, a female art photographer whose work is about to be given pride of place at the Arches in Glasgow, the venue's 15th anniversary exhibition. The woman with the monkey is a burlesque performer friend of Honey's. The photo was taken for their own entertainment; Honey, who describes herself as a feminist, but "not very PC", likes it because she thinks it looks "rock'n'roll... a bit stupid".

Is there anything wrong with a feminist taking photos like these, and displaying them as art? No, of course not. But it happens rarely enough to be intriguing when it does. Why does Honey do it? The main reason, she says, is that she is interested in capturing people as they really are - "I am obsessed with 'real'," she laughs, after using the word numerous times throughout our conversation. "Being naked, to me, I think it's really liberating. I think as soon as humans start to put on things, you put on a bit of sexuality, a bit of style, class, religion. It's all added on to emphasise who they are. I think the naked body is so... I want to say pure but it sounds shit. It's real to me. I think being naked is divine." Honey is very sincere about this - her "second job", she tells me, is being a life model for art students. Also, she studied anthropology at university, which I can't help feeling was a formative influence.

But it's not just that Honey's subjects are naked. The images are also quite sexual (she prefers the word sensual). They are images of women - occasionally men too, penises prominently displayed, but women more often - in make-up, wigs and underwear, role-playing. Is there a difference between them and the kind of soft-porn images you'd find in men's magazines - or "boys' magazines", as Honey calls them? Yes there is, but it's a subtle one.

"I would say that I don't think my pictures are wanking material," says Honey - she is refreshingly blunt about almost everything - as we ponder her business card, sitting on the caf table between us. "A lot of that porn is actually fake. I could be a part of that but I just find it boring. With my pictures you've got a connection there, so that it would almost be embarrassing to masturbate in front of them. I mean, who wants to masturbate over a girl with a big bulb hanging there and a big green wall?" She pauses, perhaps realising the obvious flaw in this argument, and a look of glee crosses her face. "That would be interesting. I would like to meet that person, actually." Another pause, and a change of tack. "It's something in the expression, in the eyes. It desexualises her." What she tries to capture, she says, is the feeling that her subjects are looking at themselves in a mirror, "that awareness that someone is watching you". She has little time for tasteful black-and-white nudes, and hates the word "erotica". "That just feels too safe," she says. "It's either someone naked or it's not."

I should mention that Honey is Swedish, and encountered pornography at an early age. "I hate saying this but I was a bit obsessed with porn when I was a child. I remember my cousin's boyfriend had a few of those magazines. I remember looking at the pretty ladies and I had some kind of attraction there." Even now, she says, she looks at those boys' magazines "and I kind of get obsessed with the glossy pages and the pretty girls. The boring but pretty girls."

Honey moved from Stockholm to Edinburgh in 1998 after she got divorced, aged 23. "I got married very young," she explains, needlessly. "When I got divorced I felt I just had to change my environment." Having studied photography as a teenager, she rediscovered it, she jokes, because she thought that putting on an exhibition of photos of clubbers would be a good way for her to get into clubs for free.

She talks very entertainingly about the cultural differences between Sweden and the UK. She is amused by the rather prudish phrase "birthday suit" - "Very British; it's someone being naked but you still manage to put in the word for clothes" - and exasperated by the phrase "naughty bits". "It's like someone naked is a little bit naughty. How can it be naughty?" She tells me about an Edinburgh caf that wanted to put her work on the walls but "couldn't use any nipples". "That's something I find quite interesting because it's not offensive to be naked."

On the other hand, she is not keen on tabloid newspapers' Page Three girls. "People would go crazy if that happened in Sweden," she tuts. "They're never over 22, are they? They're always 17, 18. It's so embedded in the culture," she says sadly. "So people don't react to it." Is it exploitative, does she think?

"I'm a feminist, how can I not think it's exploiting women?" she replies. "If they had the same for women then maybe that would be equal. With the boys' magazines I think it's a shame sometimes that that's where girls want to end up, because there's so much more. If you've really got the urge to be naked with people watching, go and work as a life model."

In recent times, Jannica Honey has found something of a creative kindred spirit in the rising Scottish artist Kirsty Whiten. Whiten features in her new exhibition, strolling around a field with her boyfriend Ben, both naked apart from their wellies. Last year, Honey took the photographs for Whiten's Feral Lingerie Model, a provocative project which, infamously, got Whiten's work banished from the Pittenweem Arts Festival after a complaint from a local resident. Feral Lingerie Model tells the story of a feral woman, living wolf-like and naked in a forest, who is captured by a team of hunters and fashion stylists, dressed in skimpy underwear, and photographed. It was, Whiten told me at the time, about "people's strange, desperate separating of humans and animals". In dressing the woman in underwear, her captors (male and female) are imposing their own idea of sexuality on her, however inappropriate.

The exhibition made intelligent points about exploitation and the way men, in particular, view women's bodies. Like Honey's work, it also walked a delicate line, in that it looked - as the reaction in Pittenweem made clear - a little bit like pornography. There was a moment, Honey admits, when she and Whiten were in the forest, watching their friend Jo (the model) running up a hill, naked, pursued by men with guns, and they suddenly "snapped out of how amazing it was" and realised: how would they explain this one to a passing rambler? How indeed? If a man had made Feral Lingerie Model, I suspect, the reviews might not have been quite as favourable as they were. Likewise, Honey's own work has a different meaning because it's made by a woman.

She is not unaware of this. "It's 2006," she says, "and I want to be positive. I think it's very important that she [Whiten] can get away with it, and that I can do my photography. Men have done it for years. I think Kirsty tapped into something really pure. Women are expected to be nice girls, we shouldn't be too wild, and there are all these things to control this wild nature."

And so Honey makes a living, some of the time, out of asking women: "Do you mind getting your boobs out?". "I hear myself saying that quite a lot," she laughs. "I'm quite sensitive so I can kind of sense when someone is comfortable with that or not."

She does, I should stress, take other kinds of photographs too - some beautiful landscapes, for example, some fashion photography, some portraits of her little brother (fully clothed) and other friends and relations. When it comes to her art, she says, she generally only photographs people she knows well, to ensure that the "connection" she talks about is there.

There has to be an attraction, she says, "not necessarily a sexual attraction," although sometimes, by the sound of it, it is sexual. "I would say I'm actually bisexual," she smiles. Her new show is a collection of her portraits, called Mnniskor, Swedish for people.

To pay the bills, she also does commercial photography for various businesses - and it's here that the real differences between Honey and a male photographer reveal themselves. "I know people react differently around me," she sighs. "I hate telling this story but I'm going to say it." And so she tells me about a wedding she photographed where the father of the bride kept making jokes at her expense. "He didn't mean anything by it, but I know that if it was a man shooting that wedding he wouldn't be making those jokes." And yet, rather than attacking the man, this warm, friendly artist goes out of her way to defend him. "He was funny. It wasn't like he thought, 'I'm going to get this wee woman, she looks like a feminist.' He didn't know he was doing it."

Call Honey a post-feminist if you like. Or you could just call her a feminist with a playful, confident individuality. As she waves a cheery goodbye, I feel slightly embarrassed, not by the business card, but because I feel the need to conceal it in a wallet. How British.

• Mnniskor by Jannica Honey is at the Arches, Glasgow, 21 September to 29 October.

• Yesterday's picture of William Conway, director of the Hebrides Ensemble, was in fact a picture of Peter Evans, a former director. We apologise to the Ensemble for the error.