We introduce a simple image descriptor referred to as the image signature. We show, within the theoretical framework of sparse signal mixing, that this quantity spatially approximates the foreground of an image. We experimentally investigate whether this approximate foreground overlaps with visually conspicuous image locations by developing a saliency algorithm based on the image signature. This saliency algorithm predicts human fixation points best among competitors on the Bruce and Tsotsos  benchmark data set and does so in much shorter running time. In a related experiment, we demonstrate with a change blindness data set that the distance between images induced by the image signature is closer to human perceptual distance than can be achieved using other saliency algorithms, pixel-wise, or GIST  descriptor methods.