The cortical mechanisms associated with conscious object recognition were studied using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants were required to recognize pictures of masked objects that were presented very briefly, randomly and repeatedly. This design yielded a gradual accomplishment of successful recognition. Cortical activity in a ventrotemporal visual region was linearly correlated with perception of object identity. Therefore, although object recognition is rapid, awareness of an object's identity is not a discrete phenomenon but rather associated with gradually increasing cortical activity. Furthermore, the focus of the activity in the temporal cortex shifted anteriorly as subjects reported an increased knowledge regarding identity. The results presented here provide new insights into the processes underlying explicit object recognition, as well as the analysis that takes place immediately before and after recognition is possible.