The statistics of photographic images, when represented using multiscale (wavelet) bases, exhibit two striking types of non-Gaussian behavior. First, the marginal densities of the coefficients have extended heavy tails. Second, the joint densities exhibit variance dependencies not captured by second-order models. We examine properties of the class of Gaussian scale mixtures, and show that these densities can accurately characterize both the marginal and joint distributions of natural image wavelet coefficients. This class of model suggests a Markov structure, in which wavelet coefficients are linked by hidden scaling variables corresponding to local image structure. We derive an estimator for these hidden variables, and show that a nonlinear "normalization" procedure can be used to Gaussianize the coefficients.