The Charleston Center for Photography used to be a place where you could take camera classes or get your portrait taken. But since late summer, the center has taken steps to become more than a commercial studio. Its new mission is to be a center of visual culture in Charleston and the Lowcountry.

Jack Alterman, a well-known shutterbug, owns the King Street complex. For a long time, he lived a double life — one for the photography school, the other for his business, Alterman Studios. But in August, he hired Stacy Pearsall to take the center to a new level — and to build a new brand for Charleston photography.

Since then, Pearsall, an award-winning photojournalist for the U.S. Department of Defense who has chronicled combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has updated the center’s logo, installed new signage, and upgraded its website.

The center is now a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) entity. The coming year promises a host of events, including documentary screenings and special guest speakers, especially National Geographic‘s Sam Abell at the American Theatre on Jan. 14. More on events, go to the website.

Moreover, the center just announced a new exhibit to open on Jan. 2, the Visual Cultural Awards’ Visual Maker of the Year. The opening reception is on Jan. 12 and will feature a screening of An Unlikely Weapon, a documentary about Eddie Adams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. Adams is famed for his work during the Vietnam War. His was the picture of the Saigon chief shooting a Vietcong point-blank.

“Early on, the school couldn’t stand on its own, but now it can,” Pearsall says. “Jack and his staff did a great job for the past six years, but when he hired me, he asked me to take the center in a different direction.”