Visual classification is the way we relate to different images in our environment as if they were the same, while relating differently to other collections of stimuli (e.g., human vs. animal faces). It is still not clear, however, how the brain forms such classes, especially when introduced with new or changing environments. To isolate a perception-based mechanism underlying class representation, we studied unsupervised classification of an incoming stream of simple images. Classification patterns were clearly affected by stimulus frequency distribution, although subjects were unaware of this distribution. There was a common bias to locate class centers near the most frequent stimuli and their boundaries near the least frequent stimuli. Responses were also faster for more frequent stimuli. Using a minimal, biologically based neural-network model, we demonstrate that a simple, self-organizing representation mechanism based on overlapping tuning curves and slow Hebbian learning suffices to ensure classification. Combined behavioral and theoretical results predict large tuning overlap, implicating posterior infero-temporal cortex as a possible site of classification.