In the spring of 1977 Struth travelled to London with Axel Hütte for two months to photograph streets and buildings in the working-class area of Tower Hamlets in East London. Together they conceived a research project to photograph social housing in its urban context, ranging from the rows of Victorian terraced housing to the housing estates built in the 1960s and 1970s. Hütte concentrated on entrances and hallways whilst Struth focused on urban panoramic views and street perspectives.
During the autumn, he was awarded a scholarship from the Kunstakademie to live and work in New York for six months with a studio at PS1 and a modest grant of 5000 DM. He travelled to New York in December 1977, staying until September 1978.
The scholarship in New York offered an opportunity to concentrate intensively on photographing the streets of a different city. Over the course of several months, Struth photographed in various districts in Manhattan including Wall Street, Tribeca, SoHo, Chelsea, Midtown, Harlem as well as in Brooklyn, Queens and elsewhere, making two hundred black-and-white street photographs, invariably with a central perspective.
A selection of these photographs were presented as an exhibition at his studio at PS1 under the title Streets of New York City: Central Perspectives. The exhibition consisted of forty-five black-and-white prints, each 30 x 40 cm, mounted on museum board but unframed, and installed in double rows, in blocks of different sizes. There were separate blocks of photographs for each of the districts. “I was interested in the possibility of the photographic image revealing the different character or the ‘sound’ of the place. I learned that certain areas of the city have an emblematic character; they express the city’s structure. How can the atmosphere of one place be so different from another, and why? This question has always been important to me. Who has the responsibility for the way a city is? The urban structure is an accretion of so many decisions.”
During the exhibition, eighteen prints were acquired by a New York lawyer and two friends for $50 each. This first-ever sale enabled his stay in New York to be extended for a further two months.