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Inside the camera obscura. (Credit: David Benthal)

Tucked away near the harbor on the southeast corner of Mitchell Park in Greenport is a small building many folks are left wondering about. Is it a submarine sculpture? An elegant storage shed?

Even if you know it’s the camera obscura, you might not have seen it in action or know exactly how it works. For example, there is no camera lens in the obscura, despite its ability to project an image on a table for the people inside to view.

It’s fair to say this North Fork hidden gem is right there in plain view.

You may have ice skated past its entrance door or spun dozens of times around the park’s antique carousel without even noticing the structure nearby. It’s time to rectify that.

The Greenport camera obscura, designed by SHoP Architects, first opened to the public in August 2005. It’s open by appointment only and costs just $1.

It’s one of only about 50 public camera obscuras left in the world — the structures peaked in popularity by the late 19th century with the development of the standard camera — including five in the United States. Village officials say people from all over the world have scheduled appointments to see the village through the camera obscura in a quest to visit all of them in the country or world. Overall, the building is underutilized today.

Here’s how it works:

Light enters through a small opening in the darkened room, projecting a live picture onto a table from mirrors on top of the building. Looking down at the table you see a living, two-dimensional image of the outside scene, in full color. The mirror can be rotated by motor, so that, as it turns, you see the view in all directions. From one angle, you see straight through to Preston’s at the foot of Main Street. Rotate it 180 degrees to see the ferry dock and follow the vessels part of the way as they cross to and from Shelter Island. You can also spot people walking or driving down Front Street, or riding the carousel.

The brighter it is outside the better the view, making summer the ideal time for viewing (though it can get very hot inside the building, so be selective).

It’s also a very quick and easy thing to do on a visit to the village so long as you plan ahead. Most visitors stay for only a few minutes.

To schedule an appointment for the camera obscura call village hall at 631-477-2200 during business hours.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the architects responsible for the design of the camera obscura. Like the rest of Mitchell Park, the building was designed by SHoP Architects.