Our visual system imposes structure onto images that usually contain a diversity of surfaces, contours, and colors. Psychological theories propose that there are multiple steps in this process that occur in hierarchically organized regions of the cortex: early visual areas register basic features, higher areas bind them into objects, and yet higher areas select the objects that are relevant for behavior. Here we test these theories by recording from the primary visual cortex (area V1) of monkeys. We demonstrate that the V1 neurons first register the features (at a latency of 48 ms), then segregate figures from the background (after 57 ms), and finally select relevant figures over irrelevant ones (after 137 ms). We conclude that the psychological processing stages map onto distinct time episodes that unfold in the visual cortex after the presentation of a new stimulus, so that area V1 may contribute to all these processing steps. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.