In continuous recognition the recency effect manifests as a decrease in accuracy and a sublinear increase in response time (RT) with the lag of a repeated stimulus. The recency effect could result from the gradual weaken- ing of mnemonic traces. Alternatively, the recency effect could result from a search through a compressed timeline of recent experience. These two hypotheses make very different predictions about the shape of response time distributions. Using highly-memorable pictures to mitigate changes in accuracy enabled a detailed examination of the effect of recency on retrieval dynamics. The recency at which pictures were repeated ranged over two orders of magnitude across three experiments. Analysis of the RT distributions showed that the time at which memories became accessible changed with the recency of the probe, as predicted by a serial search model suggesting that visual memories can be accessed by sequentially scanning along a compressed representation of the past.