No offence taken. Personally, no, I don’t think it’s disrespectful in this particular case.
In the US we’re very “rest in peace” about our dead. In fact, we should consider adding “do not disturb” to every toe tag because we tend to get corpses out of sight as quickly as possible so they can go decompose by themselves. Sometimes there’s no physical interaction between the recently deceased and non-professionals at all anymore- “direct cremation” is our (increasingly popular) phrase for that.
That isn’t the case everywhere in the world though. In many cultures death still has a public face. Just look at festivals like Ma’Nene in Indonesia or Dia de los Muertos in Mexico or Festa di Tutti i Santi in Italy. And check out the link below to my piece on the putridaria of Italy. In that specific example, the public display of human remains is linked to very important religious concepts. So in that context looking at and tending to corpses in public is respectful, whereas leaving them alone to decay isn’t.
These mummies, for example, were never meant to just rest in peace. They were originally buried knowing that they would be dug up and put in the church’s ossuary. The only hitch was that they accidently mummified. In fact, after they were discovered in 1917, a monk floated the idea of reburying them but no one wanted to because the residents considered the mummies to be an important part of their history and members of the community.
I’ll be the first to admit that I walk a line on this blog when I photograph human remains and holy objects. But there are a few other factors that dictate what I photograph and when. For example, I always have permission to photograph and if I don’t know, I ask. I would never photograph a private event- be it a funeral, a religious service or an autopsy. And I always try to get the full history out there- that’s why I’m working on a well-researched piece about these guys- they’re real people and they deserve to be more than creepy photos on the internet.
This is a big ethical discussion for archaeologists/anthropologists/museums as well. You’ve phrased the differences in cultural attitudes toward death really well; the other concerns often stem from displaying bodies obtained without permission and outside these cultural contexts, often in a colonial context. It’s quite interesting, and I keep meaning to read Foucault’s Discipline and Punish…